“Be­yond un­der­min­ing food se­cu­rity low agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity con­trib­utes to the per­sis­tence of ru­ral poverty, even as a mid­dle class emerges in many of Africa’s ci­ties”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -


From Europe and North Amer­ica to East Asia and Latin Amer­ica, agri­cul­tural ad­vances have proved to be key pre­cur­sors of in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment and gains in liv­ing stan­dards. Africa has the added ben­e­fit of tech­nolo­gies that other re­gions lacked at this stage of their agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment, from cost-com­pet­i­tive off-grid so­lar power to mech­a­nisms for map­ping soil char­ac­ter­is­tics, reg­u­lat­ing wa­ter use, and en­sur­ing farm­ers’ ac­cess to ac­cu­rate price in­for­ma­tion.

And in­no­va­tion is al­ready hap­pen­ing. Rwanda, for ex­am­ple, is work­ing to link agri­cul­ture sup­port with broader ser­vices like elec­tric­ity and ed­u­ca­tion. And the coun­try’s farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties are pi­o­neer­ing par­tic­i­pa­tory de­ci­sion­mak­ing struc­tures for agri­cul­tural plan­ning and con­flic­tres­o­lu­tion mech­a­nisms to set­tle dis­putes among grow­ers.

To bol­ster agri­cul­tural in­no­va­tion and mod­erni­sa­tion, gov­ern­ments must en­sure that farm­ers have se­cure ti­tles to their land, and thus an in­cen­tive to make the needed in­vest­ments. The chal­lenge lies in the fact that, in many parts of Africa, land is com­mu­nally owned, with al­most ev­ery­one in a vil­lage hav­ing tra­di­tional rights to some farm­ing land – a sys­tem that has helped to pre­vent land­less­ness and des­ti­tu­tion in ru­ral ar­eas. Given this, re­forms to make land ten­ure more com­pat­i­ble with mod­ern com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture must be sen­si­tive to lo­cal tra­di­tions and re­spect the own­er­ship rights of com­mu­ni­ties and tra­di­tional small­hold­ers.

Of course, agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment can have se­ri­ous econ­omy-wide pit­falls, which must be nav­i­gated care­fully. For ex­am­ple, as tech­nol­ogy-driven pro­duc­tiv­ity gains re­duce the num­ber of work­ers needed on farms, strate­gies to boost em­ploy­ment in other parts of the value chain and to man­age mi­gra­tion to ci­ties be­come even more es­sen­tial.

With Africa’s ru­ral pop­u­la­tion al­ready largely un­der­em­ployed, there is no time to waste in im­ple­ment­ing such strate­gies. For­tu­nately, Africa’s large pop­u­la­tion of in­creas­ingly well-ed­u­cated young peo­ple, who are largely un­in­ter­ested in the back­break­ing work of sub­sis­tence farm­ing, is well suited to fill the higher value-added jobs that emerge in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor and be­yond.

An­other po­ten­tial pit­fall of agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment is en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, in­clud­ing land degra­da­tion, soil nu­tri­ent min­ing, ex­ces­sive wa­ter use, and wa­ter pol­lu­tion. Here, again, Africa can ben­e­fit from ex­pe­ri­ence and knowhow that other re­gions could not ac­cess at a sim­i­lar stage in their agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment. By draw­ing on other coun­tries’ best prac­tices – and avoid­ing their mis­takes – Africa can de­velop an en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural sys­tem that fits African con­di­tions.

Such a sys­tem must place a high pri­or­ity on pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­sity and pre­vent the emer­gence of mono­cul­tures across the con­ti­nent, which is home to some of the world’s rich­est ecosys­tems. Cli­mate-change con­sid­er­a­tions – in­clud­ing the ex­pected costs of mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion – must be cen­tral to the process of up­grad­ing agri­cul­ture, in­clud­ing the rel­e­vant in­fras­truc­ture.

Ul­ti­mately, each coun­try must chart its own course to­ward agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment. But co­op­er­a­tion – even just to ex­change ideas and em­u­late best prac­tices – can help the process con­sid­er­ably. That is why, next March, the African Trans­for­ma­tion Fo­rum in Ki­gali will con­vene lead­ing fig­ures from African gov­ern­ments, busi­ness, academia, and civil so­ci­ety to dis­cuss prac­ti­cal next steps to­ward agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion in Africa, and the broader push to build glob­ally com­pet­i­tive economies.

Africa’s agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion will be a long and com­plex process. But it has the po­ten­tial to en­sure re­gional food se­cu­rity, pro­mote broader eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and ul­ti­mately help to feed the world. We are con­fi­dent that African lead­ers will rise to the chal­lenge.

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