The 28th Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Conference for Africa opened in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on Tuesday with a call on smallholder farmers to step up their efforts to help accelerate Africa?s economic transformation and development.

A press statement signed by Liliane Kambirigi, Communications Officer of the FAO Africa Regional Office, said despite important economic progress and agricultural successes, Africa remained the world?s most food insecure continent, with relatively low levels of agricultural productivity, low rural incomes, and high rates of malnutrition.

?As the Organization?s 28th Regional Conference for Africa gathers in Tunis, FAO is calling on African ministers of agriculture for action in priority areas to accelerate increased investment and broad-based transformation in support of smallholder farmers, including rural youth and women?, it added.

According to the statement Africa had recorded continuous economic growth since 1999, accompanied by improved governance and human development indicators. Currently, seven out of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world are situated in Africa, and the International Monetary Fund has estimated that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa will be 6.1 per cent in 2014.

Africa?s annual total GDP grew on average by 4.8 per cent in 2000-2010, up from 2.1 per cent in the previous decade, and the agricultural sector?s growth rates in the same time period were 3.2 per cent and 3.0 per cent respectively, it noted.

The continent has achieved a series of agricultural successes in major areas, including the intensification of staple food production, improved varieties of banana in eastern and central Africa, high-yielding varieties of maize in east and southern Africa, and productivity gains in cotton production in Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as tea and floriculture in East Africa.

?The question is how African leaders can build on this progress by providing stable agriculture and fiscal policies that encourage investment, as committed 10 years ago in the Maputo Declaration, and strengthen governance and accountability mechanisms that contribute to more systemic implementation of policies and programmes.

?These actions are critical to trigger a transformation in the capacity of countries to deliver sustained and broad-based agricultural growth and development?, said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa.

The Conference will advocate for providing the enabling environment to end hunger on the continent by 2025.

It will primarily focus on sustainably increasing the potential of agriculture, fisheries, livestock and forestry as a source of employment and income for African youth, women and men who engage in these sectors for food and nutrition security, as well as agri-business ventures aimed at increasing family incomes. GNA

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