…I felt like I gained an insightful and balanced understanding of the many issues and complexities surrounding agriculture, mining and development in Africa.
Last August I had the privilege of attending the 2013 Crawford Fund Annual Conference in conjunction with the Australia Africa Research Forum to engage in discussions pertaining to mining, agriculture and development in Africa. The Conference spanned three days and included presentations by distinguished researchers and policy makers followed by panel discussions, student research presentations and multiple opportunities to network with future colleagues.
From listening to the many distinguished speakers working in Africa I felt like I gained an insightful and balanced understanding of the many issues and complexities surrounding agriculture, mining and development in Africa.
Food security is a human right yet each day 800 million people live with food insecurity. Africa has many challenges and this is reflected by a low 9% agricultural output despite the continent comprising of 24% of the worlds agricultural land. Over time many people have moved away from productive entities including agriculture to low quality jobs. Yet Africa has bountiful natural resources which can transform its economies but only if managed well. Africa must first build on its natural resources in order to diversify in the future. Agriculture and mining have historically been in competition over land use, human settlement as well as water use and pollution. However the two can work together symbiotically as agriculture is dependent upon mined minerals and can benefit from mining-driven food requirements and infrastructure. It was highlighted that the Australian mining ideology is to invest in agriculture as despite mining being a business first and foremost, community development is key to harmonious operation. It was noted that currently weak governance, policy and law enforcement, low-cross ministerial collaboration and corruption are rife. It is not the role of foreign mining companies to arbitrate tax spending by local governments or provide aid. New national development plans and policies are required to create community awareness of mining’s positive impacts, encourage community development and ensure the equitable distribution of funds and services in order to alleviate poverty. African countries must work together to facilitate trade and value-adding manufacturing capacity to the continent.
Ultimately the question “can we make bread from stones?” remains in the hands of the African people and governments, with the knowledge that countries including Australia are willing and able to offer support. Africa can work towards the elimination of hunger and malnutrition in addition to improving economies and reducing import burdens through agricultural development. The need for agricultural research to meet these goals opens opportunities for collaboration with Australia.
In line with its ethos to achieve a food secure world through international agricultural research, The Crawford Fund also sponsored a student research day that brought together African and Australian students as well representatives of government agencies to discuss current agricultural research across both continents. The level of high quality student presentations across the board was commendable and educational.
Overall, attendance at the 2013 Crawford Fund Annual Conference was an excellent opportunity to meet, learn from and network with many people involved in mining, agriculture, research and policy making from both Africa and Australia.