Today, around 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated agricultural land is in Africa. Naturally, this provides the continent with a unique opportunity to feed both itself and the world.
But first, to unleash this unmatched potential, there has to be a major acceleration in the ability of governments and private-sector organisations together to turn ideas and policies into hard investments and actions.
This was the underlying theme of a panel discussion at AGRF 2018, focusing on the important role of the Leadership for Africa (L4Ag) forum and attended by Agriculture Ministers from countries including Togo, Gabon, Mozambique, Rwanda, Nigeria, Mauritius, and more.
As a result, the focus of the event was squarely on the role of leadership in ensuring that agricultural businesses across the continent have access to the funding they need to seize the opportunity to convert Africa into a net exporter of produce.
The scale of the challenge involved was highlighted by Dr. Jennifer Blanke, Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank. She estimated that the current annual total of financing provided to African agricultural businesses stands at around $7 billion – this is in contrast with the $40 billion that she believes is actually needed.
Finance alone is far from the only constraint. According to session moderator Dr. Daniel Karanja, Vice-President for Programmes and Advisory at IGD, government and business need to rid themselves of siloes and barriers, coming together across borders as leaders to learn from one another about key opportunities and threats.
Despite existing challenges, there have been notable success stories in recent years where strong and decisive leadership has resulted in significant improvements. Ten years ago, for example, Mozambique was a ‘dumping ground’ for frozen chicken imports from elsewhere. As a result, many producers of commodities including soya beans and maize were on the verge of going out of business.
The solution was deceptively straightforward. Government and private sector organisations, including farmers, sat around the same table to set out new policies to provide the required protection and regulation. Just two rules were implemented: imported chicken must come straight to Mozambique and not via a third-party country. And all imports must have a shelf-life of at least six months.
As a result, imports fell to an extent that ensured the survival of local providers.
Gabon, meanwhile, until recently imported all of its food. As a primarily oil and gas economy, it had virtually no agriculture industry at all. As this became increasing unaffordable, the government looked at ways to develop a modern industrialised agricultural sector.
Supported by an injection of funds in excess of 100 million euros from the African Investment Bank, the resulting programme has created 18,000 jobs to date. The contribution of agriculture to national GDP has risen from two to five percent, and the country aims to extend this to 10 percent. Critically, Gabon now counts itself among Africa’s agricultural nations.
These success stories reflect what can be achieved with the right will and the right investment – in the words of Dr. Blanke, “Let’s make Africa shine.”