This year, under the leadership of H.E. President Alassane Ouattara and the theme of “Accelerating Africa’s Path to Prosperity: Growing Inclusive Economies and Jobs through Agriculture”, the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2017 is shaping up as a premier platform to showcase ongoing progress in Africa’s agricultural transformation agenda and to scale up the political, policy, and financial commitments needed to achieve the Malabo Declaration and the global development agenda around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Following the launch of the landmark annual Africa Agriculture Status Report (ASSR) at the AGRF taking place in Cote d’Ivoire from 4-8 September 2017, the main conclusion centres around the power of entrepreneurs and the free market in driving Africa’s economic growth from food production. This is owing to the fact that a lot of businesses are waking up to opportunities of a rapidly growing food market in Africa that may be worth more than $1 trillion each year by 2030 to substitute imports with high value food made in Africa.

According to the report, agriculture will be Africa’s quiet revolution, with a focus on SMEs and smallholder farmers creating the high productivity jobs and sustainable economic growth that failed to materialise from mineral deposits and increased urbanisation.  Despite 37 percent of the population now living in urban centres, most jobs have been created in lower paid, less productive services rather than in industry, with this service sector accounting for more than half of the continent’s GDP. Smart investments in the food system can change this picture dramatically if planned correctly. 

 “Africa has the latent natural resources, skills, human and land capacity to tip the balance of payments and move from importer to exporter by eating food made in Africa.  This report shows us that agriculture involving an inclusive transformation that goes beyond the farm to agri-businesses will be Africa’s surest and fastest path to that new level of prosperity,”  said Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) which commissioned the study.

To succeed, Africa’s agricultural revolution needs to be very different to those seen in the rest of world. It requires an inclusive approach that links millions of small farms to agribusinesses, creating extended food supply chains and employment opportunities for millions including those that will transition from farming. 

The report highlights the opportunity for Africa to feed the continent with food made in Africa that meets the growing demand of affluent, fast growing urban populations on the continent looking for high value processed and pre-cooked foods. Furthermore, it advocates that this opportunity should be met by many of the continent’s existing smallholder farmers. Currently part of this growing demand for Africa’s food is met by imports. These amount to $35bn p.a. and are expected to cost $110bn by 2025 unless Africa improves the productivity and global competiveness of its agribusiness and agriculture sectors.  

The report also acknowledges that the private sector holds the key to the transformation of the food system so far.  “Impressive value addition and employment is being created by SMEs along value chains in the form of increased agricultural trade, farm servicing, agro processing, urban retailing and food services. Large agribusinesses like seed companies, agro processors and supermarkets are also playing an increasing role in the food value chain in many regions,” said Dr Peter Hazell (IFPRI), the technical director of the report.  

However, the study is clear that left to the private sector alone, growth in the agrifood system will not be as fast as it could, nor will it benefit as many smallholder farmers and SMEs as it could. Government support is needed to both stimulate and guide the transition. As a high priority, governments need to create an enabling business environment and in particular, meet targets to invest ten percent of GDP in agriculture, agreed at the 2003 African Union (AU) Summit as part of The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).   

The report urges governments to nurture a globally competitive food production sector through measures such as increasing infrastructure investment in secondary cities and towns, improving the reliability of energy and water supplies, building more wholesale market spaces, promoting open regional trade, identifying and investing in first mover crops and introducing stricter standards for food safety and quality.  During the launch, Dr Hazell stressed the role of the government in advancing the business of smallholder agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. “The government needs to not only create an enabling environment, but also be proactive in providing smallholder farmers with the right amount of support that could link them to sustainable value chains,” he said.

The authors call on governments to stimulate new private public partnerships for more innovative financing and insurance provision which can lead to increased resilience for farmers and their households.  While globally agricultural insurance is a $2 billion business, Africa accounts for less than two percent of the market.  

In conclusion, authors of the report note that although progress is being made, Africa needs to pick up the pace if it is to compete globally and turn itself from importer to exporter by feeding its people with food made in Africa.  “Hopefully the prize of a rapidly growing and valuable market for food made in Africa will spark widespread political will and attract the best business talent to build a high value food sector,” said Peter Hazell. “This private public partnership will be essential to provide the trinity of high productivity employment, sustainable economic growth and food made in Africa for Africa and the world.”

Governments need to increase their investments in agriculture and rural infrastructure in line with their 10 per cent CAADP commitment.Legislation and regulations that boost regional trade in agricultural products will make a significant contribution to the growth of Africa’s food production sector and have a tangible impact on reducing poverty.

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