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Reaching the summit: presidents past and present reflect on the Grow Digital agenda

AGRF 2020

September 4th, 2019

Welcoming the assembled dignitaries and delegates, Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA, opened the Presidential Summit of AGRF 2019 by reflecting on the significance of this year’s venue.

The choice of Ghana as this year’s host country is fitting, she said, because the African green revolution is already underway here, and because it serves as a tribute to the late Kofi Annan – son of Ghana, founder of AGRA and architect of AGRF.  

This year’s Forum, she continued, is providing a vital opportunity to address three key focus areas. 

First, how to leverage the digital revolution to drive inclusive and sustainable agricultural transformation. Three hundred million Africans today have a smartphone, a figure which is projected to rise to 500 million by 2020. “The digital revolution is here. And we have an opportunity to use this revolution to leapfrog into the future – the future that our people deserve.”

Second, the Forum is focusing on the private sector and specifically the ‘hidden middle’ of SMEs who provide 64% of the food that’s consumed in Africa. “We want to prioritise this hidden middle as we go forward,” said Dr Kalibata, “to ensure they can do a better job” and help drive productivity and prosperity.   

And thirdly, AGRF 2019 is looking at climate change and the impact it is having on the African continent. On this subject, Dr Kalibata paused to congratulate the Government of Ghana and the tree planting campaign it has launched:

“This week alone we planted 200,000 trees. And the Ghanaian Department of Forestry has promised that by the end of the year they will have planted 200 million. They’re calling it, Let’s Get Back our Rainforests.” 

Next on stage was Strive Masiyiwa, Executive Chairman of Econet and Chairman of AGRF Partners Group. Reflecting on this, his last AGRF as Chairman of AGRA, Masiyiwa spoke of his first board meeting with Kofi Annan to discuss the formation of the organization. 

“I expressed trepidation,” he said. “I told him, ‘I’m just a techy guy. I don’t know anything about farming. I should be out there, being an entrepreneur.’” But Annan’s response was telling. “That’s why I want you on the board,” he said. “It’s what you did in telecoms that I want to see happen in agriculture.”  

According to Masiyiwa, 25 years ago 70% of Africans had never heard a telephone ringing. “Today more than 70% of our people own a telephone. It was the beginning of our digital revolution.” He explained that he began to think of seeds in the same way he thinks of telephones: 

“When we started, only three sub-Saharan African countries were exporting hybrid seeds. A total of 2,000 metric tons. So, we began to invest money to develop seed. It was the low-hanging fruit for us, and it was like telephones. And today I can report we have over 110 companies producing seeds and 110,000 metric tons a year.”

It then fell to Masiyiwa to introduce his successor as Chairman of AGRA, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn, Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who has been elected by the board “to complete this mission”. 

Following a moving tribute by Mrs Nane Annan, widow of Kofi Annan, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn opened his address by praising H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana. In particular, he singled out the President’s success in driving progress in Ghana through the Planting for Food and Jobs program. 

“I have seen with my own eyes that Ghana’s agricultural transformation is in the making,” said H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn. “This kind of leadership is much desired on our continent.”

Outlining the urgent need to harness technological innovations in agriculture, H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn went on to issue a call to African leaders to “step up and drive the political awareness and commitment needed to deliver action on climate change.” 

Climate change, he said, “is one of the greatest challenges of our time”, requiring continued investments in climate resilience to “protect the development gains we’ve already made.”

In the Presidential Keynotes that followed, Hon. Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Ghana’s Minister of Food and Agriculture, hailed the record-breaking attendance at this year’s AGRF.  

“We have here with us,” he said, “27 Ministers of Food and Agriculture from around the continent, and over 2,500 delegates.” Further, “the Deal Room is bursting with activity, with over 400 businesses making deals for agriculture in Africa.”

H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana, also acknowledged the vigorous conversations taking place at AGRF 2019 and the “collective attachment to agricultural transformation” that continues to define this event. 

Evidence from Ghana, said H.E. President Akufo-Addo, shows that the digital revolution will deliver results in agriculture. In 2018, following a bumper harvest, Ghana did not import a single grain of maize, but instead exported food to its neighbours.“But we believe we can do more. The 21st century provides us with an enormous opportunity to harness the benefits of the digital revolution to develop our nation’s agriculture… our vision is to embrace fully digitalization to speed up economic development. That’s why the theme of AGRF 2019, Grow Digital, is appropriate and excites me so much.”