Africa is no stranger to Treaties, pacts, accords, international agreements, conventions and declarations. From treaties on continental issues to agreements on global affairs, Africa has been, and continues, playing remarkable roles. The Lome Convention and Cotonou Agreement, which preceded the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will ever be associated with the places where they were hatched in Africa. Not the least among landmark official commitments in, and on, Africa was the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, a declaration that sought countries on the continent to pledge to individually commit themselves to devoting 10 per cent of annual budgetary allocations to agriculture.
The Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003 in Maputo was where and when African Heads of State and Government endorsed the “Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa” (Assembly/AU/Decl. 7(II)). The Declaration contained several important decisions regarding agriculture, but prominent among them was the “commitment to the allocation of at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years.”
Although, on paper, Maputo Declaration seemed a good idea, its implementation still leaves much of a yawning gap. A study by Action Aid, a development intervention agency, found that – by 2013 –only seven governments have consistently met the Maputo mandate.
The countries include Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Guinea.
Although Africa’s agricultural spending has doubled over the past decade and a half and food production and economic growth for those countries that have fully invested in the sector have increased somehow, much still remains to be achieved for the most part on a continent-wide scale.
The ActionAid report also found that, in the seven countries that met Maputo’s ideal before 2014, most public investment went for procuring chemical inputs rather than cheaper and more climate-resilient support for agro-ecological farming methods, such as intercropping and crop rotation. Achieving Maputo’s target on the final year of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was therefore impossible as only 20 nations have pledged to comply by 2015 under the rulebook of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). The African Union (AU) summit sometimes acts as if echoing more the voices of foreign development partners and less of the voices of African farmers themselves.
The weak economies and limited access to foreign exchange in African countries predispose them to vulnerabilities in a number of ways. The desperately needed foreign investment has not been coming in the required quantum, speed and spread. Within the same period after Maputo, stories of land grab by foreign interest also abounded. High rate of poverty, the looming threat of climate change, infrastructural deficit, ageing farming population, poor harvests and price volatility all add up to have negative impacts on Africa’s agriculture. Africa accounts for about 60 per cent of the world’s arable land, and most of its countries do not achieve 25 per cent of their potential yield. These could explain why there has been an increased interest on large-scale investment in agriculture in Africa, especially by other richer countries.
Here comes the big question. How do we increase investment in African agriculture? If governments fail to respond to Maputo, what about indigenous private investors or big foreign investors? What are the pros and cons of each of these alternatives and what sustainability impacts do they have? It needs to be emphasised that countries that are less favoured either because of relative strength or poor governance might remain in poverty and highly vulnerable. Africa is still experiencing a food deficit, with many countries having low cereal yields—the lowest in the world. Deborah Brautigam, in her book titled “Will Africa Feed China?” discusses that, if and when Africa is able to feed itself, “a second jump in agricultural productivity” becomes necessary. Africa will therefore need to improve agricultural productivity at an even higher pace if it wants to feed the export market.
Africa has a serious problem. In the international food trade, Africa operates in deficit.
The FAO in 2011 disclosed that Africa spent more than $30 billion to import; and, for every $1 it earns today in agricultural exports (mainly coffee, cotton, and cocoa), the region spends nearly $2 on agricultural imports, mainly food. The continent’s underinvestment in agriculture, coupled with the complications of the 2007 and 2008 global food crises had a disproportionate impact on Africa in the area of food imports and the food prices from exporting nations further compounded Africa’s prospects in the years after Maputo. Africa’s policymakers are therefore up to certain challenges and have a lot to learn.
There seems to have been too long and too much nostalgia and love for small scale agriculture and less emphasis on large scale commercial agriculture. While the former allows most small holders into the production space, the latter has many entry barriers. It remains to be seen how any meaningful medium to large scale commercial farming could be done in Nigeria, for example, under commercial bank loans at 25 to 35 per cent interest rates. Existing land policies and laws sometimes stand in the way of productive agriculture in Africa and countries with poor land governance are easy targets of land grabbers. Rwanda, a country with one of the best land policies in Africa is worth emulating by most other countries. The link between land governance and agricultural productivity should therefore be recognised.
Innovative sources of funding for research and development need to be sought and obtained. These could help on land improvement, climate-smart agriculture, improved seed varieties, post-harvest management against wastage and food loss, processing technologies for increasing food’s shelf life and more efficient marketing. The need for value addition to improve agricultural income comes to light here. Africa needs to boost its agricultural income by becoming active in the global value chain (GVC). The emphasis on food crops in recent times has been more on few notable commodities and the neglect of many other less abundant crops. This seeming lack of diversity puts a lot more pressure on the few crops, mostly cereals, roots and tuber crops.
Overall, it needs to be stated that translating potential into efficient farming activity is by no means easy as closing the yield gaps requires government support, including in the area of technology, institutions, and infrastructure. Let’s presume that the framers of Maputo commitments anticipated Sustainable Development Goal number two in a succeeding framework to the Millennium Development Goals. Let’s presume that Maputo Declaration had zero hunger at the core of its underlying considerations. In these cases, every nation that aspires therefore to achieve this SDG 2 and other relevant SDGs should consider it a duty to take every step and every policy that will make agriculture to be an engine of economic growth, industrial development and food security within the continent, and should therefore mobilise supports to transform these ideals to realities.