This year is dedicated by the African Union to the cause of food security and Agriculture, so it was not surprising that a spirited gathering of more than 1,000 agriculture officials, farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, civil society organizations and pioneers in agribusiness representing 60 countries – met at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Abba, Ethiopia for four days recently.
They all met at the 2014 African Green Revolution Forum put together by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the African Union, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) are among others.
AGRF also happened to be the first multi-stakeholder gathering in response to the Declaration and call to Action by Heads of States and Governments during the July 2014 AU Summit.
In the Declaration, African Heads of State called for the doubling of food productivity in Africa, halving of poverty and significant progress toward the elimination of child under-nutrition by 2025.
African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said these goals represent a renewed political commitment, at the highest level, for agriculture-led growth across our region, adding that “We need to go further, faster.”
African Green Revolution Forum gives us the opportunity to hit the ground running and set in motion the plans and measurable steps needed for an inclusive, sustainable transformation of African agriculture by all actors.”
AGRF was an opportunity for African agriculture stakeholders to discuss critical issues for Africa’s food security: increasing food productivity as climate change presents more challenging growing conditions; promoting agricultural investment that generates benefits at all economic levels; increasing financing for agricultural development; and support for modernizing commodity markets and removing barriers to intra-regional trade.
In his key note address, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kanayo F. Nwanze hit the nail on the head when he said African nations cannot become economic powerhouse without a viable agricultural sector.
“Many African economies are growing strongly, but too often this is on the back of extractive industries that do not yield jobs and income for Africa’s poor and hungry. GDP doesn’t mean much when you are talking about indicators of personal poverty.
“GDP may have risen in the double -digits for many oil-exporting countries, but paradoxically in the rural areas of the same countries people are as poor today as they were when the first barrel of oil was pumped.
He added “You cannot eat oil – at least not crude oil. You cannot eat diamonds either. You cannot eat gold. Money from extractive industries has not transformed African agriculture over the last 30 years. It has not fed hungry people or developed rural areas.
“I am proud that many African nations are becoming economic powerhouses, but without a viable agricultural sector and strong rural economy, I do not see a viable future for Africa.”
Kanayo said there is a moral, economic and social imperative to ensure that agricultural growth is also sensitive to nutrition.
“Today, around two-thirds of Africans earn their living from agriculture, livestock and fisheries. It is time for them to benefit from the continent’s economic gains and to contribute to its food and nutrition security.
He said there must be a major shift in our mind-set in the way we look at farming as “farming, particularly for smallholders, is an economic activity, a business enterprise that feeds people and generates wealth.”
For Chairman of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Strive Masiyiwa, Africa’s smallholder farmers produce the vast majority of food grown on the continent and they are the backbone of a sector that employs more than 65 percent of all Africans.
“So when businesses, governments, researchers and farmers work together to strengthen our food production and distribution systems, they are seeking commercial success that will be shared across African society—and particularly for the poorest among us.”
Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Adesina Akinwumi, said that African farmers need supports just like the developed countries support their farmers with massive subsidies in order for them to be successful.
Delivering a paper at the high Policy Dialogue on ‘Research to Feed Africa’ during the forum, Adesina said while there is always debate on subsidies, that his position is that they are needed, especially in the early phases of agricultural transformations to ensure that the poor, especially women, and smallholders benefit from technical change.
“While developed countries support their farmers with massive subsidies, African farmers, who are poor, are barely supported. Lacking access to technologies and with limited financial resources many do not take advantage of the benefits that new technologies can offer.”
Adesina said there is no doubt that investing in agricultural research pays, “the challenge is always how to ensure that poor farmers benefit from technical change.”
“What is important is to develop ways of targeting support to reach farmers, while ensuring that the private sector, not the government, delivers farm inputs to farmers. This is what we did in Nigeria.”
The Minister noted that public policies are needed to reduce adoption costs faced by farmers, adding that when he was appointed he met a system where the government for decades had been directly involved in procuring and distributing fertilizers to farmers.
“The system was corrupt and benefited rent seekers, not smallholder farmers.
We ended four decades of fertilizer sector corruption within 90 days and with it the era of government buying and distributing seeds, and replaced it with a private sector-driven system.”
He said with that the role of government shifted to providing targeted farm support to farmers for seeds and fertilizers via electronic coupons on mobile phones or “e-wallets”.
“Between 2012 and 2014, a total of 14 million farmers received their subsidized farm inputs using electronic vouchers on their mobile phones to directly pay private sector input retailers.
“Dignity was returned to farmers. As farmers expressed their demand, the number of seed companies increased from 5 to 80 within three years.”
With the development, the Minister noted, the financial markets took note and for the first time ever banks began to lend to seed companies and agro dealers in Nigeria.
“Bank lending to seed companies and agro dealers rose from $10 million in 2012 to $53 million by 2013, while bank lending to fertilizer companies rose from $100 million in 2012 to $500 million in 2013.
“Private sector input supply companies began to build their supply chains to reach farmers directly instead of supplying to the government, stimulating economic activity and creating jobs all across the seed and fertilizer sector value chains.
Jean Lebel, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)’s President, said they have seen dramatic progress in local farmers’ livelihoods through CIFSRF projects that have improved the yield of vegetable crops, introduced secondary harvest, and developed breakthrough vaccines for cattle that hold out the promise of improving the GDP in some African countries.
“These advances not only benefit farmers today but will improve African food security in the future.”