Africa’s agric take-off to make bil­lion­aires, from ‘poor men’s fields’

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Analysis & Opinion - Boaz Blackie Keizire Cor­re­spon­dent Boaz Blackie Keizire | Head, Pol­icy and Ad­vo­cacy |Al­liance for a Green Rev­o­lu­tion in Africa ( AGRA)

ASKED where the next crop of African bil­lion­aires will come from, president of the African De­vel­op­ment Bank, Nigerian Dr Ak­in­wumi Adesina, with­out bat­ting an eye­lid, de­clared that they will be farm­ers. And he is not the only per­son in his class en­dors­ing agri­cul­ture as the next fron­tier.

Tech­nol­ogy suc­cess Strive Masiyiwa, a Zim­bab­wean, has in­di­cated more than once that if he was to start over, he would go into farm­ing.

Africa’s rich­est man, Aliko Dan­gote, too, is now ven­tur­ing into farm­ing, just re­cently in­vest­ing $4.6bn in Nigerian agri­cul­ture.

Dan­gote plans to in­vest $3.8bn in sugar and rice and $800m in milk pro­duc­tion in the next three years.

Al­ready greatly in­volved in agri­cul­ture, Dan­gote, through his Dan­gote Group con­glom­er­ate, is out to in­crease his sugar out­put by 50 per cent (from 100 000 tons), rice yield by 1 mil­lion tons, and start pro­duc­ing 500 mil­lion litres of milk a year by 2020.

Masiyiwa and Dan­gote are suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men in their own right, and be­ing bil­lion­aires, they must know some­thing that the av­er­age African doesn’t.

Yet, for years, and even with front-seat ac­cess to data and con­sul­tant-ad­vice from real bil­lion­aires, the ma­jor­ity of African govern­ments have done lit­tle to re­po­si­tion their economies as agri­cul­tural pow­er­houses. But things may now be set to change.

In 2014, African heads of state met in Equa­to­rial Guinea, and vowed to work to­gether to open up the po­ten­tial of the re­gion’s agri­cul­tural in­dus­try.

This agree­ment was put into a doc­u­ment, now pop­u­larly known as the Mal­abo Dec­la­ra­tion, which stip­u­lated the spe­cific com­mit­ments with clear in­di­ca­tors for track­ing and mea­sur­ing agri­cul­tural prac­tice that needed at­ten­tion.

Fur­ther, the Mal­abo Dec­la­ra­tion, agreed that a new mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem would be set up to en­sure that the Heads of State, and their re­spec­tive au­thor­i­ties, main­tained ac­count­abil­ity to peers, and to their cit­i­zenry in de­liv­er­ing this agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion.

For this pur­pose, the Heads of State agreed to re­view their achieve­ments every two years; pop­u­larly known as the bi­en­nial re­view.

The first such re­view is now un­der­way, with a fi­nal re­port set for pre­sen­ta­tion at the next African Heads of State Sum­mit.

In the same way, the Heads of State agreed that there was an ur­gent need to cre­ate a score­card that would show coun­tries how they are far­ing on the dif­fer­ent goals of the Mal­abo Dec­la­ra­tion.

The score­card, the first ever pan-African co-op­er­a­tion of its kind, is now un­der de­vel­op­ment and will be ready be­fore the Jan­uary 2018 African Union Sum­mit of Heads of State.

Once pre­sented, it will pro­vide a new and pow­er­ful tool for all stake­hold­ers in iden­ti­fy­ing the spe­cific ar­eas of agri­cul­tural trans­for­ma­tion that need at­ten­tion.

A com­ple­men­tary tool for the Bi­en­nial Re­view process, the score­card is pow­ered by data sub­mit­ted by re­spec­tive coun­tries on their per­for­mance in the 43 agri­cul­ture growth in­di­ca­tors agreed on in Mal­abo.

The beauty of the new agri­cul­ture score­card is that it is least con­cerned with how coun­tries per­form against each other and pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for shar­ing lessons.

The hope is that coun­tries that are strug­gling to re­po­si­tion their agri­cul­tural sec­tors for take-off will use it to reach out to those who are prov­ing suc­cess­ful for guid­ance, al­low­ing the re­gion to grow to­gether, as a bloc.

This func­tion of the agri­cul­ture score­card, there­fore, rep­re­sents the in­tent and pur­pose of the dis­cus­sions in Mal­abo, as a pan-African drive, where it has be­come clear that suc­cess is not owed to any coun­try in Africa, and that the only way up is by na­tions be­com­ing pil­lars of sup­port for each other.

The score­card will also be avail­able on­line to en­cour­age pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the in­ter­ro­ga­tion of the in­for­ma­tion gath­ered, in the knowl­edge that by en­gag­ing with cit­i­zens, Heads of State can ben­e­fit from expert ad­vice that may not be im­me­di­ately avail­able to them.

The key prin­ci­ple for pre­sent­ing the in­for­ma­tion pub­licly, how­ever, is rooted in Jür­gen Haber­mas’ ar­tic­u­la­tion that pub­lic en­gage­ment can in­flu­ence de­ci­sions in ways that see key na­tional ob­jec­tives met more swiftly.

The ul­ti­mate goal re­mains to dis­pel the myth that score­cards are com­pli­cated doc­u­ments whose aim is to vil­ify non-per­form­ers while re­ward­ing suc­cess.

The lead­ers’ meet­ing in Mal­abo rightly con­firmed that Africa is mov­ing into a space where com­pe­ti­tion in de­vel­op­ment no longer mat­ters, and that the fail­ure of some coun­tries ad­versely af­fects the rep­u­ta­tion of the re­gion as a whole.

By the end of the sec­ond bi­en­nial re­view process, and with coun­tries ac­tively en­gag­ing with the agri­cul­ture score­card, it is fore­seen that fur­ther im­prove­ment in re­gional in­te­gra­tion will have been se­cured, with key suc­cesses in in­tra-African trade and in­creased in­vest­ment in agri­cul­ture and hunger re­duc­tion ef­forts.

How­ever, the speed at which the score­card fu­els that suc­cess de­pends on sup­port, from govern­ments and other stake­hold­ers, in pur­su­ing its un­der­ly­ing ob­jec­tive.

The ac­tive in­ter­ac­tion of Heads of State with the tool will in­tro­duce them to a new line of ques­tion­ing that will al­low them to iden­tify the spe­cific weak­nesses they need to over­come for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment.

The hope is that by eas­ily iden­ti­fy­ing crit­i­cal ar­eas of fail­ure, the Heads of State can en­cour­age both a pol­icy and at­ti­tude shift that will even­tu­ally drive the de­sired changes.

Opinion lead­ers, such as Dan­gote, Adesina and Masiyiwa, are help­ing fel­low Africans to ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of achiev­ing the Mal­abo goals.

Masiyiwa has al­ready emerged as a ma­jor in­flu­encer through his in­ter­ac­tion with the youth on so­cial me­dia, and his voice is now grad­u­ally in­spir­ing a rad­i­cal shift in favour of agri­cul­ture.

So are Adesina and Dan­gote, who are driv­ing a new ad­mi­ra­tion for farm­ing through their views voiced on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio.

More of their peers are fol­low­ing suit too, but a lot more mouth­pieces are needed around the con­ti­nent to drive this rev­o­lu­tion with the speed it de­serves.

As ex­perts note, it is only when the av­er­age African re­alises that dig­ging dirt is an hon­ourable job, and de­vel­ops the de­sire to be ac­tively in­volved in it be­cause of the fi­nan­cial lib­er­a­tion it comes with, that the con­ti­nent will be­gin to achieve its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment goals.

The Mal­abo Dec­la­ra­tion and its bi­en­nial re­view process, as well as the new agri­cul­ture score­card, are now pro­vid­ing a new base to drive that change.

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