Yes, agri­cul­tural sec­tor can pro­vide jobs for youth, women and en­sure food self-reliance

The AFDB vice-pres­i­dent for agri­cul­ture, hu­man and so­cial de­vel­op­ment spoke to VIC­TOR KIPROP on Africa’s food sit­u­a­tion

The East African - - OUTLOOK -

Why does Africa spend $35 bil­lion on food im­ports, yet it has the largest un­used agri­cul­tural land in the world and a large pool of labour?

Africa’s food prob­lem is the low pro­duc­tiv­ity and lost op­por­tu­nity by ex­port­ing ba­sic, pri­mary prod­ucts and buy­ing back more pro­cessed prod­ucts at a higher cost. Also, about 12 mil­lion young peo­ple come into the work­force for the only three mil­lion jobs that are avail­able, but this sit­u­a­tion can be changed and is al­ready chang­ing.

AFDB and other like-minded in­sti­tu­tions should work with govern­ments to train the young grad­u­ates on how to be­come the next gen­er­a­tion of agri-preneurs. Youths should come up with busi­nesses that not only thrive, but also hire young peo­ple. Agri­cul­ture is key to Africa be­cause of the huge op­por­tu­nity it presents. It em­ploys 60-80 per cent of Africans de­pend­ing on which coun­try you look at, and by 2030, it will be a $1 tril­lion busi­ness ev­ery year.

For a con­ti­nent that is strug­gling with high food im­ports, youth un­em­ploy­ment and rel­a­tively low rev­enues in some coun­tries, this is a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity. If farm­ers and busi­nesses can in­crease food pro­duc­tiv­ity and move up the value chain to sell, not just ba­sic prod­ucts, but high value-added prod­ucts, Africa can feed it­self and the world.

Africa’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion has been de­scribed as both a chal­lenge and an op­por­tu­nity. How can the con­ti­nent lever­age this pop­u­la­tion to be food se­cure?

Ris­ing pop­u­la­tions and ur­ban­i­sa­tion are phe­nom­ena all over Africa and the key to feed­ing this grow­ing pop­u­la­tion is in­creased in­vest­ment. Africa will need $30 to $40 bil­lion to in­vest in agri­cul­ture ev­ery year to de­velop it and cre­ate the much­needed pro­duc­tiv­ity leap. How­ever, govern­ments can­not do this alone. Pri­vate sec­tor in­volve­ment is re­quired to make this sus­tain­able.

One res­o­lu­tion of the 2003 Ma­puto Dec­la­ra­tion was rais­ing bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions to agri­cul­ture to 10 per cent, yet many African coun­tries still al­lo­cate less than eight per cent. Why?

It is im­por­tant to set tar­gets and meet them, but we also need to un­der­stand that govern­ments have com­pet­ing needs from dif­fer­ent key sec­tors that re­quire equal at­ten­tion. More im­por­tant than the amount al­lo­cated is how this money is spent and the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in gen­eral. If the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment is not favourable then no vol­ume of in­vest­ment will make much dif­fer­ence.

Women make up more than a half of Africa’s farm­ers. How­ever, credit re­mains largely col­lat­er­alised, lock­ing out a ma­jor­ity of them. What is be­ing done to plug th­ese fi­nanc­ing gaps?

This is­sue deeply con­cerns us at AFDB. We are work­ing on the Af­fir­ma­tive Fi­nance Ac­tion for Women in Africa that will un­lock $3 bil­lion for women-led small and mi­cro en­ter­prises, pri­mar­ily in agri­cul­ture. We are train­ing women on how de­velop busi­ness plans, and the lending in­sti­tu­tions on the im­por­tance of lending to women. We are also work­ing with govern­ments to fix the poli­cies that hin­der women from cre­at­ing thriv­ing busi­nesses.

This year’s African Green Revo­lu­tion Fo­rum, like the pre­vi­ous edi­tions, at­tracted huge com­mit­ments from govern­ments and NGOS. But crit­ics ar­gue that most of th­ese com­mit­ments are never matched with im­ple­men­ta­tion and, as a re­sult, there is not much to show from pre­vi­ous in­vest­ments. Your thoughts?

Peo­ple make pro­nounce­ments that are some­times hard to fol­low through. We need to change this mind­set. Any com­mit­ment need to be linked to op­por­tu­nity. The com­mit­ments have to be about cre­at­ing the right en­vi­ron­ment to en­sure the pri­vate sec­tor thrives. We need to move from tak­ing up agri­cul­ture as a way of life and start think­ing of it as a busi­ness.

The Africa Agri­cul­ture Sta­tus Re­port 2017 fore­casts that Africa’s food mar­ket could be worth $1 tril­lion an­nu­ally by 2030, from the cur­rent $300 bil­lion. What should Africa do to achieve this?

Con­sid­er­ing Africa’s grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, it is ev­i­dent that we need a much big­ger mar­ket. It is a $1 tril­lion op­por­tu­nity be­cause it is a $1 tril­lion need. This re­quires Africa to en­sure it puts in place the right busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment to stop be­ing a net food im­porter.

What is the role of tech­nol­ogy in this?

Tech­nol­ogy is im­por­tant. The best thing about it is that it is not a ques­tion of in­vent­ing in any­thing new but get­ting the right adapted tech­nolo­gies avail­able to African farm­ers. With this, we can ex­pect an ex­plo­sion in pro­duc­tiv­ity that will help Africa get ahead of the curve.

Where does Africa’s true po­ten­tial lie?

Its peo­ple. Africa has a very young pop­u­la­tion which if trained cor­rectly could turn the con­ti­nent’s for­tunes. There is po­ten­tial for a de­mo­graphic div­i­dend in Africa be­cause of the big hump of young peo­ple com­ing into the work­force. The alternative is de­mo­graphic dis­as­ter and we just can’t al­low that to hap­pen.

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