/ 30 May 2008

Japan, Africa pledge to ramp up food production

African leaders and Japan pledged on Friday to get to work to ramp up food production, calling it ”critical” for the continent’s development amid a crisis over soaring prices.

Japan also pledged to step up foreign aid and investment to Africa, at a three-day summit with 51 African nations in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

The summit, attended by 40 African heads of state, came as Japan has expressed growing alarm as emerging economies, particularly China penetrate the continent, sealing business deals and political alliances.

In a joint declaration, the African leaders pledged to press for ”early reform” of the United Nations Security Council. China, the only Asian nation with veto on the prestigious body, has blocked Japan’s bid for a permanent seat of its own.

The summit comes amid soaring food prices, which have triggered riots in some countries, and prompted the World Bank on Thursday to announce a $1,2-billion programme to fight the crisis.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had promised to the summit to use Japanese know-how to help the continent double rice production within 10 years.

To meet the goal, the declaration called for microfinancing for farmers and development work to increase the amount of irrigated area in Africa by 20% in five years.

”Seventy percent of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa, or 230-million, live in rural areas and an increase in food production and agricultural productivity are critical for food security, poverty reduction and economic growth in Africa,” it said.

Japan also put into the declaration Fukuda’s promises to double aid to Africa within five years and to work to double private-sector investment from the world’s second largest economy.

”It is essential to accelerate broad-based economic growth,” the declaration said, adding that Africa had ”enormous, as yet largely untapped, natural resource potential.”

It is the fourth summit of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which is held every five years.

The latest summit set up a body to monitor the goals in the conference, calling for follow-up meetings each year involving Japan, African states and other donors. – AFP