The Elders Council brings together African Former Heads of State and Government willing to support the continent’s efforts in achieving the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) or Malabo declaration and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitments. This year’s elder’s council is a premier effort within AGRF that was moderated by H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and AGRA Board Chairperson and AGRF Partners Group Chair.
African leaders recognize the critical role that agriculture plays in economic transformation and development. Unfortunately, current numbers and results show that the continent is still not on track to achieve the UN-SDGs by 2030 (especially SDGs 1, 2 & 3). Close to 300 million Africans are still going to bed hungry, and these numbers are increasing because of cycles of droughts and floods and related pests damage, all resulting from climate change. And now, Covid-19 has thrown many people out of jobs and increasing numbers find themselves with food insecurity.
To start off the session was a keynote address by H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, who stated that with nine years left to achieve the SDGs, our strength lies with UBUNTU, the power of unity. “The elders council within AGRF will play a key role to ensure that former leaders draw a lot of lessons from their tenure and continue to hold each other accountable to grow agriculture in our continent,” he added.
To start off the panel discussion was H.E. Dr. Jakaya M. Kikwete, Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania who shared that in Tanzania, there is always fear that we may sell everything to other countries and end up with nothing for ourselves so naturally we impose export bans, but it should not be the case. “We need to have talks with other neighboring countries to promote trade, let us look at shortages as opportunities to intra-trade,” he quipped. He equally shared an experience he had in Indonesia as a foreign prime minister citing, “I realized they have built better infrastructure like roads and canal irrigation with access to water, high yielding seed, fertilizers, pesticides, skilled farmers who are a big input to better productivity and leverage science.” He urged that it is important to replicate these actions so that we achieve improved food systems and provide enough food to our continent.
Next up was H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President of Liberia who began by noting that Africa and particularly Liberia her country, hasn’t yet been able to solve the problem of food insecurity. “Our agricultural systems and farmers have faced serious difficulties especially since 2014 when the country was greatly hit by Ebola,” she added. She did indicate that there are various efforts that have been put in place to counter these harsh effects. “More efficacy is needed for freedom of movement in between borders to allow for share of resources, learnings and trading,” she said. In answering the query posed on how to improve support to women as change agents and drivers of progress, she was quick to applaud Tanzania for electing a female President which has filled a void in Africa by appointing women in executive positions. She quickly warned however that if we continue at this pace we won’t meet gender equality to get more women voices for development. As a champion for women, she finalized by saying, “I have established a center for women development with 30 women so far, we give them larger profiles to share experiences with fellow women in executive positions who serve as mentors.
“In Benin, we have not supported agriculture and farmers despite the fact that it contributes 37% of GDP in the economy,” said H.E. Lionel Zinsou, Former Prime Minister of Benin who was next to speak. He passionately noted that indeed the continent needs money to develop but still needs political will in a way that leaders recognize the true importance of agriculture. He urged that Africa needs working capital because it the lesser financed continent, it is also less indebted and hence needs the money for micro-finances, banking systems or even subsidies as there is no development without access to money. On matters of trade he added, “We do not need to be protected from our neighbors, we need to cooperate with our neighbors and share resources to boost agriculture and to grow our continent.”
In addressing what leaders in African countries need to do differently to create a meaningful change, H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria said that at the leadership level our country policies must be in tandem with what is happening on the ground with the farmers. “The ministry of agriculture works in Silos, they must broaden their knowledge of what smallholder farmers want and learn the challenges,” he added. In his final remark as advice to African leaders he advised that a little knowledge of economics is good for our leaders, simple things like learning of demand and supply.