By Francis Kokutse, in Accra, Ghana
Francis Kokutse is a journalist based in Accra and writes for Associated Press (AP), University World News, as well as Science and Development.Net. He was a Staff Writer of African Concord and Africa Economic Digest in London, UK.
If only African leaders would listen to their technocrats and others, who talk about solutions to the continent’s problems, Africa would have long solved whatever is keeping it back. Unfortunately, they don’t and so, what at all will jolt them to listen?
Four years ago, the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa’s president, Agnes Kalibata, helped to launch the African Agriculture Status Report (AASR 2018) and among other things, it was said that the lack of political will was preventing African countries from following the lead of their Asian counterparts in using agriculture to spark widespread economic growth.
Kalibata said at the time that, with the political will to support agriculture, African countries would have been able to “pair it with compelling visions, strategies and related implementation capacity for transforming their poorly performing farms.” She said experience and lessons have shown that with support, there could be change on the continent, adding that it was possible for this to be done through a well-planned and coordinated approach to use resources in the public domain to build systems and institutions.
“Governments are definitely central to driving an inclusive agriculture transformation agenda. This body of work recognizes their role and aims to highlight the value of strengthening country planning, coordination and implementation capacity while supporting the development of an effective private sector and enabling regulatory environment,” Kalibata said.
It looked like African leaders did not pay attention at the time because the AASR said, “catalyzing state capacity to drive agricultural transformation,” is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the role of state capacity and political will in achieving that “transformation,” a catch-all term for work required to boost production and incomes on the millions of small, family farms that grow most of Africa’s food — but where output often lags far below global averages.
The 2018 AASR looked at countries like China, South Korea, Ethiopia, Rwanda as well as Morocco, and concluded that intensifying commercial production on small, family farms packs a powerful economic punch. It said, “China’s agricultural transformation is credited with kick-starting a rapid decline in rural poverty, from 53 percent in 1981 to 8 percent in 2001. The same is true for Ethiopia, 25 years of steady growth in the farm sector has cut rural poverty rates in half and in Rwanda, over the same period, poverty has reduced by 25 percent.” Is this not enough proof that things must be changed on the continent?
What is more, the report supported the claim that, “a consistent feature in each of these success stories is rock solid political support — led by heads of state, senior government ministers, private sector leaders and farmer organisations — for the ‘institutions, investments and policies’ that can unleash the economic potential of smallholder agriculture and local agribusinesses.”
In order to bring about progress on the continent, the study said, there is reason for optimism in the increasing willingness of African governments to openly discuss where they are advancing in agriculture and where they are struggling. For example, 47 countries have signed on to the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). And they recently submitted detailed reports outlining their progress to date in achieving a range of commitments made through the AU’s Maputo and Malabo accords.
The study also noted that there is a growing number of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who have moved beyond subsistence farming to become commercial growers, adding that, 85 percent of Africa’s food is currently produced by smallholder farming households that generate a big enough surplus to sell 30 percent or more of their harvests for income.
This year in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, AGRA again launched the 2022 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR22) which says Africa needs about $40 billion – $70 billion investment from the public sector and another $80 billion from the private sector annually to trigger and sustain food production on the continent to enable it to meet its target of zero-huger by the year 2030. At this stage, all that is needed is for the leaders to find a way of putting their heads together to find the money and then, build the necessary mechanisms that are required to help provide food to the poverty-stricken masses. From past experiences and what I see, this will not be done because our leaders are used to asking for alms from donors.
Even when they were warned last April by delegates at the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Africa regional conference that, continuous rise in food prices over the last two years pose new threats to food security, it did not mean anything to them. These delegates went on to suggest that African countries must put together concrete policies to be implemented in the short and long term to facilitate recovery and build resilient agrifood systems in sub-Saharan Africa. This also means nothing and instead our leaders continue to sing the chorus that, “the Russian-Ukraine war is the cause of food scarcity.” They will never come out to say their inactions have helped to create hunger on the continent.
Another thing Kalibata said, which should be receiving attention, is the fact that some countries are facing food shortages because of logistical problems across the continent. “The reason is, we are not able to move food around to increase trade in maize, for instance, across the continent,” she said. Should this be a big problem to solve?
Take the situation between Burkina Faso and Ghana, where tomatoes from the former are not quickly transported to neighbouring Ghana, resulting in farmers losing out to the destruction of the crops on their farms. Even in Ghana, getting maize from the producing regions is a very difficult problem because the farmers do not have storage facilities and the roads are bad, as a consequence, some scientists have come out to say, aflatoxins do develop on some of the maize left for days on the farms because of lack of transport.
Kalibata would want African countries to produce more on the continent and stop the importation of food which currently stands at $50 billion. If this trend continues, she warned, Africa will be importing $300 billion worth food which in turn amounts to exporting jobs.
She said “the AASR22 reflects on key action areas required to tackle the most urgent and important areas in response to the current food challenges. There is an urgent need to repurpose food policies to address the emerging challenges affecting conditions, outcomes, and behaviour of our food systems, without compromising the economic, social, and environmental fundamentals.”
To add to all that Kalibata has been saying, Rwanda’s minister for agriculture and animal resources, Gerardine Mukeshimana gave a different perspective. For her, the continent is off track on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the Malabo Declaration and this provides a sense of urgency and for that matter, there is the need to move faster to prevent hunger and poverty. It looks like African leaders have long forgotten about the declaration they signed. Or what has always been the case is that, once the government changes, the new people in power forget about all that was started before they came into office.
Mukeshimana said,“we need tangible actions in order to achieve results that we want,” adding that, there was now the need for African governments to increase investment in agriculture and move away from calculating growth only in terms of Gross Domestic Products (GDP), adding that, “no one eats GDP, it is food that the people eat. The big question is, did our leaders hear all that was said in Kigali? If they were not there, there were people representing their countries there. So, again on behalf of the African people, let me ask, what at all will make our leaders decide to take action to stop hunger on the continent?
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