The African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) concluded Saturday, September 8, 2018 with an ambitious commitment to deliver billions of U.S. dollars in new investments to African farms and agribusinesses, triple agriculture trade between African countries, and forge new partnerships with a number of development partners from China, India, Brazil, and Israel.

The meeting featured the launch of an aggressive new consortium to defeat the invasion of the Fall armyworm now threatening up to $6 billion of damage to African maize, sorghum and other critical food crops. In addition, a new multi-billion dollar irrigation initiative could bring a new level of stability to Africa’s rain-fed farming regions.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said “The majority of Africans still earn their livelihoods from the land so agriculture deserves the concentrated attention of Africa’s policymakers, scientists and entrepreneurs. Fortunately, we know what works and the experience and goodwill in evidence at this forum show that we have everything we need to succeed.”

2,800 delegates from around the world participated in the forum, filling the ultra-modern convention center in downtown Kigali to capacity for three days of intensive discussions and deal-making. It’s theme of Lead, Measure, Grow highlighted the critical importance of political leadership and rigorous, honest assessments of progress in the agriculture sector for achieving growth that can spread across the entire economy.

“The aspirations for African agriculture are extremely high across the continent, and progress, as usual, is not enough to achieve them,” said the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Dr Agnes Kalibata. “Partners from across the region and around the world are becoming equally ambitious with their commitments and then demonstrating their ability to follow through.”

$60 Billion plus farmers and agribusiness investments

A crucial goal for AGRF 2018 was to secure greater investments for African farmers and agriculture businesses. And the community rose to the challenge. In Rwanda alone, business leaders laid out plans to increase agriculture export revenue by $150 million annually and create 300,000 additional jobs over the next five to six years.

The Pitch Agrihack competition, organized by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), matched young entrepreneurs with venture capitalists to pitch ideas like remote farm management system in Kenya and new approaches to providing farmer legal services in Uganda. The AGRF Deal Room, a new feature of the forum, hosted 16 companies which came from a pool of over 400 applications. Investment agreements that averaged around the US $2 million were achieved through this new feature.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the European Union, the Government of Luxembourg, and AGRA formed a coalition that laid plans for an ambitious alliance that has the potential to consolidate tens of millions of dollars in new investments for commercial agriculture ventures in Africa, with a strong focus on attracting youth.

Also, IFAD’s President, Gilbert Houngbo, said IFAD anticipates delivering a total of $3.5 billion in new investments over the next few years, half of which will flow to Africa. In addition, officials from the African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) detailed the launch of the $50 million Investing in women fund that already has secured a $6.42 million commitment from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

“There is something going on out there and our young people are beginning to turn their heads and see the possibilities in agriculture. They are beginning to realize that we can’t have a paradox where the average age (of the population) is 19 years but for our farmers, it is approaching 60.”

New Energy Around Agriculture Trade

Trade emerged as an area that could supercharge the sector. The recent establishment of Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) animated discussions around the potential for reforms which was documented at the meeting with the launch of the new African Agricultural Trade Status Monitor. This new initiative has the capability to triple trade in agriculture commodities between African countries.

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe said trade is a driver of growth and it’s known that when there is a trade in agriculture, it drives growth from the bottom up.

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto said consolidating the CFTA will give African countries the “platform and the muscle” they need to negotiate as equals with trade blocs like the European Union. But he also wants to see African countries focusing more attention on the neglected opportunities with their next-door neighbours.

“Why struggle to access the markets in Europe when we can’t access the market next door. We have made it easier to export to Europe than to export to Ghana or Rwanda,” he said.

Embracing New Friends for African Farmers

AGRF 2018 saw new agriculture partnerships emerging with China, Israel, India, and Brazil. The forum occurred right on the heels of the historic 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing that featured an unprecedented package of agriculture investments and technical assistance programs flowing from China to Africa.

China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs representative, Hon. Wu Hongyao confirmed the new partnerships, noting that they will include major initiatives with 10 agriculture universities in Africa and the construction of new agriculture demonstration centers and agriculture-focused industrial parks.

Israel emerged as an increasingly familiar face in African agriculture. A new agreement was signed between AGRA and Israel’s Volcani International Partnerships to pursue a number of initiatives, including an Israeli-Africa Agriculture Innovation Center to be hosted jointly by Volcani and Israel’s Agriculture Research Organization. There were also representatives from Israel’s “Startup Nation Central” on hand to lend their expertise to Africa’s growing number of agriculture-related startups.

A state Minister from India’s Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare noted that “India and Africa are starting on a new journey with India bringing its experience in transforming itself from a food-deficit to a food-surplus country.”

Officials from Brazil signalled intentions to develop new partnerships around agriculture development in Africa. Keeping Score in the Agriculture Sector, Fertilizing Farms with Political Power Leaders applauded the January launch of the first Inaugural Biennial Review, which features an African Agriculture Transformation Scorecard (AATS).

Together they provide a detailed, ground-breaking assessment of where countries are progressing in achieving an agriculture transformation, as well as those areas that still need attention. The report revealed that 20 of 47 African Union member states are on track to achieve commitments made at the 2014 AU Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. They commended the willingness of all 47 countries to provide this thorough and transparent accounting of progress and ongoing commitment to evidence-based leadership.

The forum featured the launch of the 2018 African Agriculture Status Report “Catalyzing State Capacity to Drive Agriculture Transformation,” the most comprehensive assessment to date of the role of state capacity and political will in achieving that “transformation.” The exhaustive analysis found agriculture is delivering strong economic growth and sharply reducing poverty in countries where there is steadfast political support for agriculture which is paired with compelling visions, strategies and institutional capacity.

Other notable achievements at the 2018 AGRF:

The announcement of the 2018 Africa Food Prize Laureate, which was awarded to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the first institution to receive the prestigious award.

The announcement of the new Farmer-led Irrigation for Smallholder Farming Enterprises. The ambitious program will seek to deliver $9 billion in technologies, public investment, commercial financing, and capacity building, that will enable individual smallholders, as individuals or cooperatives, to afford, own, operate and benefit from irrigation systems.

Finally, AGRF featured sombre but fond remembrances of the late Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian diplomat who served as UN Secretary-General for two terms and is widely revered for elevating the importance of agriculture in Africa to the top of the development agenda. Masiyiwa said when he last spoke with Annan, he was making plans to travel to Kigali for AGRF.

“We mobilized around his leadership. He realized that it would be impossible to carry out a green revolution that was not Africa-led, Africa-based and was using African skills,” he said.

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