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[NAIROBI] The number of African countries delivering on the Maputo Declaration to boost investment into agricultural and rural development to ten per cent of their national budgets is growing, a conference in Kenya has heard.  

Five more countries — Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Senegal — have met the pledge made at the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in July 2003, according to Estherine Fotabong, director of programme implementation and coordination at the directorate of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency.

They had also invested in research, food production, and provided financing and market access support to farmers, she said.

"Significant progress has been made towards encouraging African countries to increase their budgetary allocations to agriculture. About 12–13 countries [in total] have achieved the ten per cent target," she told the 8th Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme Partnership Platform Meeting this month (3–4 May).

Countries such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Rwanda are investing more than ten per cent, she added, noting that these nations had also shown good governance, addressed institutional capacity and focused on producers.  

But despite the positive trend, she said that there were still significant challenges to attracting private sector investment, policy coordination, funding agricultural research and fighting corruption.

She warned that failure to overcome these problems could undermine the ability to attract funding from the public, donor and private sectors for research and infrastructure.

Gibson Guvheya, senior partnership officer with the Zimbabwe-based African Capacity Building Foundation, told SciDev.Net: "There is still the need to strengthen the capacity of key actors in the sector for more agricultural transformation in Africa".

"Surprisingly, countries just emerging from conflicts, such as Central African Republic, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have scored well in terms of capacity for agricultural transformation [compared with] countries that have been reforming for some time," he said.

Selina Sannu, a participant from Kenya, gave a cautious welcome to Fotabong's comments, noting that: "It is true that more countries are now investing in agriculture, but the question is where the funding is going to. If it is just paying salaries and buying vehicles, this will be wrong. It should be directed at smallholder farmers."

Participants at the meeting said domestic funding through private-public partnerships should be a priority for Africa, instead of relying heavily on foreign donors. They called for greater investment in infrastructure, and loans for smallholder farmers at lower interest rates.