Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to become an efficient food producer to feed its expanding population and export to the rest of the world given its vast arable lands, conducive tropical and sub-tropical climate, growing urbanization and abundant supply of labour. However, a lot needs to be done to convert its potential to competitive advantage. Agriculture is characterised by an ageing farming population, low farm productivity, little or no access to irrigation, farm inputs and output markets, and weak value-chain linkages between farms and industries. To reduce poverty and boost economic growth, Africa needs to develop its agricultural sector.
A vibrant and prosperous agricultural sector to drive overall economic transformation on the African continent was the focus of discussions during the launch of ACET’s second African Transformation Report (ATR2). Titled, “Agriculture Powering Africa’s Economic Transformation” ATR2 was launched on October 10 in Washington DC, on the margins of the World Bank/IMF annual meetings.
In his welcoming statement, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, Dr. Albert Zeufack, said that the ATR2 had come at an opportune time because it aligns closely with the World Bank’s strategy on agriculture in Africa while providing new perspectives on agricultural transformation. “It will be imperative for agriculture and agri-business to transform in Africa if our economies are to transform broadly. Likewise, agriculture holds almost unlimited potential if issues such as land titling, mechanization and productivity are addressed,” Zeufack quoted the report as saying.
Presenting the report, ACET’s Chief Economist, Dr. Yaw Ansu said it highlights key opportunities and challenges to agricultural reform. “Agriculture is important in many economies particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. This is because it forms about 25% of African economies and employs about 60% of the population with a total export share at 10%”, said Dr Ansu, who is the principal author of the report.
He added that private sector involvement in agriculture and new developments in technology offer opportunities to rapidly accelerate agricultural transformation, but must be balanced with measures to ensure the benefits are shared and sustainable. He noted that strategic investments and innovative programs from governments are urgently needed to support existing farmers and bring in new investors in agriculture and agri-business.
A high-level discussant, Burkina Faso’s Minister for Economy, Finance and Development, Hon. Rosine Coulibaly/Sori, noted that agriculture has been the backbone of economic transformation in developed economies for centuries, but that the same cannot be said for African agriculture, which had been neglected for decades.
“Agriculture came back to the priority agendas of African countries in 2008 after years of neglect and growing food security concerns,” Coulibaly/Sori said. According to her, a report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development shows that growth in the agricultural sector is a hundred times more effective in reducing poverty than any investment in any other sector.
National policies and development plans must focus on agriculture in addressing challenges faced by the sector, the Minister stressed. African countries must prioritize the Maputo Declaration, under which 10% of national budgets should be allocated to the agriculture sector. Additionally, issues such as access to land by women, youth in agriculture, technical training, agricultural financing and climate change must be addressed to help transform national economies, Coulibaly/Sori emphasised.
For his part, Simeon Ehui, Head of the World Bank’s Agriculture Global Practice for Africa, highlighted education, the creation of an enabling environment, funding for climate-smart agriculture and ICT support as critical to agricultural transformation. “Currently, about half of the 200 universities in Africa are teaching courses that are theoretical in nature. Very few of them are focusing on emerging trends,” Ehui noted. The agricultural curriculum should be designed to focus on emerging agricultural issues, and policies and measures must be put in place to attract SMEs to the agricultural sector, he said.
Ehui continued: “Africa requires about $50 billion per year for infrastructural development, which makes investment in infrastructure such as energy, transport and ICT very important in agricultural transformation.” Investing in agri-technology to help spur climate-smart agriculture in productivity enhancement, resilience and reduction in greenhouse emission is equally important.
In a question and answer session, participants took turns to raises issues of implementation of agricultural strategies, making agricultural value chains attractive to the younger generations, involving women and the youth in extension services and public-private partnership agenda in agriculture. Discussions also highlighted the need to atttract conventional and non-conventional investors to agriculture.
Giving the final word, ACET’s President, Dr. K.Y. Amoako, said that to put the findings and recommendations of the report into action, there is need for partnerships. “It is not enough to produce a report, partnerships are the way forward”, Dr. Amoako said.