There are many reasons to be optimistic about Africa. One of such was articulated by McKinsey, a consulting firm. In McKinsey’s reckoning: “Africa’s growth prospects are bright” even though they differ country by country and sector by sector. Focusing on sectors, McKinsey’s verdict was that “agriculture is Africa’s largest economic sector, representing 15 percent of the continent’s total GDP, or more than $100 billion annually.” It did not mince words, however, about country-to-country variation and strength as it pointed to the “highly concentrated” agro-economy, “with Egypt and Nigeria alone accounting for one-third of total agricultural output and the top ten countries generating 75 percent.” But progress can spread to other countries.
It has been acknowledged that Africa’s agro-ecological potential is massively larger than its current output, however—and so are its food requirements. While more than one-quarter of the world’s arable land lies in the continent, it reportedly generates only 10 per cent of global agricultural output. The huge potential for growth in the sector has been recognised as it is estimated as expanding at a rate of 2 to 5 per cent a year. Africa’s diverse agro-ecological conditions provide countries great opportunities to adopt many different farming models to create an African green revolution. Africa’s agricultural potential therefore needs to be celebrated.
Africa’s economic development and growth lag seriously behind its vast potential. Nancy Birdsall, president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development, a policy think-tank, once compared Africa’s economy to that of the City of Chicago as at a little over 10 years ago. In her reckoning, the “Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy was no bigger than that of the city of Chicago.” But Birdsall’s observations, as far back as 2010, need not be a predictor of Africa’s future. Suffice it to say that it was a good insight to the Africa’s realities as of then.
The case of African agriculture, however, has been that of underinvestment. Experts estimate that, for the agricultural system work better in sub-Saharan Africa, additional annual investments of as much as $50 billion is required. For African agriculture to make a real difference, business models that can significantly increase the level of investment from the private and public sectors, as well as donors are urgently needed.
In developing economies’ informal sector, agriculture usually stands out prominently. A 2017 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report suggests that the informal economy in Sub-Saharan Africa remains among the largest in the world, which means – in essence – that Africa’s economy has great potential for growth, especially as it moves into the formal domain.
The countries of Asian Tigers fame did not just rise out of the blues. Earlier, many of them shared similarities with many African countries.
The majority of the countries that became the so-called Asian Tigers were colonies, or had recently been colonies, earlier ruled by Western powers such as Britain, or Japan. The so-called Asian Tigers were
countries that by and large had substantial natural resources, were strategically well-placed, as well as having the potential of becoming wealthier, and eventually offering their populations higher standards of living.
African agriculture, past and present, has been beset by a number of constraints, such as dependence on rains, limited investment in agricultural value chains, limited availability of domestic savings and heavy reliance on aid funding. Most African governments don’t comply with the Maputo Declaration of 2003 and spend less than 10 per cent of their public budgets on agriculture. Beyond additional agricultural investment financing through domestic sources, strategies are needed for production expansion. This will benefit significantly from increased inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) into the agricultural space.
But these don’t happen in a vacuum. Africa’s stories must be told; it must be told, using the existing communication channels of mass media. It must be told among regional and continental diplomatic corps. It must be told by the entrepreneurial community. It must be told in great gatherings of business people. It must be told, using the instrumentality of conferences, summits, seminars and informal gatherings.
Special events have proven to be veritable means of putting places and people under spotlight and generating awareness among the public at both local and international levels. In recent times, an upsurge of various events, in sports, entertainment, professional meetings, NGO fora, international organisations and global groups have elicited a frenzy of interests in participants, usually drawn from far and near.
In all advanced nations and emerging economies, such events have become a commonplace, in various sectors and on socio-cultural issues, bringing huge revenues to the host countries.
While a good number of events targeted at Africa are held in far-away US, Britain and elsewhere, Africa has yet to host any significant number of events in which its future is being determined. By contrast, Africa has been largely unnoticed in most of these international events, either as global or regional gatherings. These need to change.
With vast natural resources and expansive arable land properly harnessed, Africa can make fortune from agriculture on all fronts.
With nearly three-quarters of the world’s arable land, Africa occupies a strategic place in feeding the world as the future beckons. We need to begin hosting major events within our continent, exposing foreign investors to its huge and unprecedented benefits. Africa can thus convert agriculture’s comparative advantage to a global competitive advantage in many other sectors of the economy.
From the growing trend, Africa already has a platform on which to build its solid international exposure in agricultural investment and business networking, by recognising annual shows as something to look forward to. Such shows are good. Their levels of participations are easily a barometer for measuring participants’ or attendees’ interests in the economy of the continent, with significance in marketing, public relations and branding.
Agricultural stakeholders will focus on these periods as they boosts agro-tourism, hotel and hospitality industry, aviation industry base both local and international, business for local media (print and electronic) and the entertainment world’s fortune. Investors from other sectors will discover more openings as well.
Slogans will help in driving themes into ready minds and the agricultural calendars of various countries will become familiar information as various dates stand for landmark events such as conferences, exhibitions, shows and expos, as a rallying point for agriculture and allied businesses. Various tiers of governments, working in collaboration with the research, policy or business community, particularly the chambers of commerce, could create local and international awareness that will situate Africa in the global context of international events.
Various countries can cascade continental events into national event, with each fashioning out what best suits it. With strong determination, national cooperation, professional handlers and the right messages, Africa’s agriculture should occupy a global niche and create unprecedented opportunities for food security, good
nutrition, job creation and a robust economy, cutting across national borders.
This should serve as a springboard for Africa’s economic ascendancy.