Special Event – Farmers Forum: Leaders in dialogue with African Farmers.
On Day 1, in the first special event of the in-person AGRF 2022 Summit it is the farmers themselves that are at the heart of the conversation. Moreover, they are at the heart of Africa’s economic growth and agricultural transformation and with the dizzying statistic that around 70% of the population are employed in agriculture, this session was all about ensuring their voices are heard. A task that was ably moderated by Eugene Anangwe from CNBC who was quick to celebrate the fact that we were able to attend the summit in-person.
Today’s forum started with a welcome and some framing remarks by Mr Kolyang Palabele, President of the Pan-African Farmers Organization (PAFO) who spoke about the need to listen, to set objectives and to have clear strategies that will transform the whole agricultural firmament and allow for a quiet revolution of how this sector is managed going forward.
With the period of rapid change that has plagued the global economy – from Covid-19 to natural disasters linked to climate change, in addition to conflicts, the most vulnerable communities in Africa have been particularly badly hit. Something that keynote speaker H.E. Dr. Philip Mpango, Vice President, Tanzania was quick to point out whilst paying tribute to the farmers who had overcome so many challenges in the last few years. He went on to speak about the measures taken within Tanzania that had positively impacted their agriculture sector. With so much of the continent reliant on agriculture for both food and their income it is the farming communities that are disproportionately impacted by these running crises. For the continent to thrive it is the smallholder farmers, pastoralists and fishers who need greater support so that they may act as the agents of change necessary to restore and improve livelihoods. He also raised the issue that the farming organizations were to ensure they were truly the voices of their members and not just nominally. To that end he exhorted his colleagues across the continent to encourage governments to ensure further funding to motivate women and the youth to get involved, to hear what they have to say on agriculture and develop the human resources that are being underused in the current systems.
Handing over to the other keynote speaker, the Chair of AGRF Partners Group and Former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn went on to discuss the need to diversify and focus on higher value crops and farming that will lead to greater returns and accelerate growth. Finishing, he spoke about the absolute necessity to be bold and innovative.
A lively panel discussion followed with fascinating contributions covering a broad range of talking points including inclusivity, security, inequality and investment. It began with an acknowledgement of the diversity of gender and age represented by the panel and how that diversity needed to be reflected in the sector too, this quickly became a passionate plea for change, to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, to engage with the young and sell the industry to them, ‘There’s money to be made playing with mud.’
Ms. Elizabeth Nsimadala, President, Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF) talked about the plight of smallholder farmers and frustration about how their lobbying work would stall due to politicians not acting as swiftly as they might, but moreover the wider challenges they have faced and continue to, ‘Smallholders are at the edge of social strife… desert locusts, Covid-19 and now the Ukraine crisis… and the elephants in the room, the markets.’
‘If we want to move smallholders from subsistence farming we need to cultivate business skills and offer technological support’ these stages are absolutely necessary to ensure smallholders and women specifically can thrive and be marketable in this industry.
There was a continuous echo of the need to have and commission proper research to battle inequality and overcome the challenges, technological, unfair distribution within the supply chain and other issues without which there will continue to be a disconnect between farmers and politicians.
As the foremost forum for African agriculture, AGRF brings together the many stakeholders within agriculture, a view that was endorsed during the conversation, a unified approach that listened to its members, working collaboratively and creatively was the only way to ensure success. With both PAFO and AGRA leading the way we can ensure we are harvesting the views of the farmers, and farming organizations and even those from outside of the industry who may have something to offer, to proactively contribute their lived experiences, their informal, anecdotal research and go on to help shape political discourse to ensure a brighter future not just for those working in agriculture but for the continent of Africa itself.
A fascinating forum was brought to a close with the key takeaways being that governments have a responsibility to support the industry with investment and research and that farmers have a responsibility to make sure that they are at the heart of driving policy and making the sector attractive to the next generation.