Tag: Year of Agriculture and Food Security

Open letter to AU heads of state: Make agriculture a priority

Judging from the daily outpouring of commentary, opinions and reports, you would think that there were two African continents. One of them is the new land of opportunity, with seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, offering limitless possibilities to investors. There is, however, this other image: a starving and hopeless continent, hungry and poor, corrupt and prey to foreign exploiters.

As Africans, we are tired of caricatures. But we are also tired of waiting. Waiting to be led toward the one Africa we all want: the Africa that can and should be. We know the real Africa, filled with possibilities, dignity and opportunities, able to face its challenges and solve them from within. Never has the time been more right for us to finally realise our full potential. It is within our grasp.

As a scientist, I am always interested in facts. Africa is a land rich in resources, which has enjoyed some of the highest economic growth rates on the planet. It is home to 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. And it has seen foreign direct investment triple over the past decade.

As the head of an institution whose business is investing in rural people, I know that you also need vision and imagination. At the International Fund for Agricultural Development we have banked on the poorest, most marginalised people in the world, and over and over again these investments have paid off. For people, for communities, for societies. And more than half of the people we invest in are Africans.

More than 10 years have passed since the Maputo Declaration, in which you, as African leaders, committed to allocating at least 10% of national budgets to agriculture and rural development – key sectors in the drive to cut poverty, build inclusive growth and strengthen food security and nutrition.

Today, just seven countries have fulfilled the Maputo commitment consistently, while some others have made steps in the right direction. Ten years is a long time to wait. In less time I have seen projects turn desert into farmland.

In Malabo at the 23rd African Union Summit, I will join those of you, African leaders, who will gather to discuss this year’s focus of agriculture and food security. This is my call: Don’t just promise development, deliver it, make it happen now. Make real, concrete progress toward investment that reaches all Africans. Investments that prioritise rural people.

Our biggest resource is our people. To squander this is worse than wasteful. If we don’t act now, by 2030 Africa will account for 80% of the world’s poor. Is this the legacy that we want to leave for future generations?

The AU declared 2014 as the year of Agriculture and Food Security. And this is the year we look beyond the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals to a post-2015 world with new goals and targets to reach. I hope that this means that we will be dedicating ourselves fully to making agriculture a priority. GDP growth due to agriculture has been estimated to be five times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector, and in sub-Saharan Africa, up to 11 times. Ironically, it is countries that lack lucrative extractive industries and that have had to invest in agriculture who have found out what is now an open secret: agriculture not only improves food security but creates wealth. Small family farmers in some parts of our continent contribute as much as 80% of food production. Investing in poor rural people is both good economics and good ethics.

Farmers tend newly planted trees  Kimahuri, Kenya. (AFP)
Farmers tend newly planted trees in Kimahuri, Kenya. (AFP)

A full 60% of our people depend wholly or partly on agriculture for their livelihoods, and the vast majority of them live below the poverty line. It’s not pity and handouts that they need. It’s access to markets and finance, land tenure security, knowledge and technology, and policies that favour small farms and make it easier for them to do business. A thriving small farm sector helps rural areas retain the young people who would otherwise be driven to migrate to overcrowded cities where they face an uncertain future. Investing in agriculture reinforces not only food security, but security in general.

In an Africa where 20 states are classified as fragile and 28 countries need food assistance, the need for a real rural transformation backed by investment and not just words is critical – I have often said that declarations don’t feed people.

Investments must be focused on smallholder family farms. Small farms make up 80% of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa. And contrary to conventional wisdom, small farms are often more productive than large farms. For example, China’s 200 million small farms cover only 10% of the world’s agricultural land but produce 20%  of the world’s food. The average African farm, however, is performing at only about 40% of its potential. Simple technologies – such as improved seeds, irrigation and fertilizer – could triple productivity, triggering transformational growth in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that irrigation alone could increase output by up to 50%  in Africa.  Rural areas also need the right investments in infrastructure – roads, energy, storage facilities, social and financial services – and enabling policies backed by appropriate governance structures that ensure inclusiveness.

If we look at the countries that have met the Maputo commitment, we see that investing in agriculture works. Given that agriculture has become lucrative for private investors, and about 60% of the planet’s available uncultivated agricultural land is in Africa, there is no mystery why we hear about so-called ‘land grabs’. Opportunity draws foreign investors. There is nothing wrong with foreign investment. But it has to be managed, to the benefit of all.

What is a mystery is why, with such a vast potential and a young population just waiting for a reason to seize it, our African leaders do not announce that they will redouble their efforts to drive an inclusive rural transformation, with concrete commitments, that will make Maputo a reality. I hope that after the Malabo meeting, that will be a mystery no longer.

African economies have grown impressively. But it is time to stop focusing on GDP figures and instead focus on people. The majority of our people are engaged in agriculture, and the neglect of that sector must stop if we really want to realise the healthy, peaceful and food secure Africa that we know can be. It is not a dream; it is a responsibility.

Kanayo F. Nwanze is the President of the United Nations rural development agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

It’s time for African leaders to invest in agriculture


The African Union has declared 2014 the Year of Agriculture and Food Security, recognising that this is the issue of our time.

In January 2014, ONE and its partners launched the “Do Agric, It Pays” campaign at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa. Through this campaign we are asking African leaders to invest in our farmers, our food and our futures.

The 2003 Maputo Declaration was supposed to ensure that Africa could feed itself and that poverty was reduced through investment in agriculture. However, only eight countries have so far met their commitments by spending 10% of their national budgets on agriculture.

In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture growth is 11 times more powerful in reducing poverty, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s director general, José Graziano da Silva. By investing in agriculture, we can lift hundreds of millions of Africans out of poverty, provide jobs and boost the continent’s economy by 2024.

We know that this is achievable, as Africa holds 60% of the remaining global arable land and so can potentially not only  feed itself but the rest of the world too. While smallholder farmers produce 80% of the continent’s food, it is ironic that this sector of the population also bears the brunt of rural poverty. Our governments can facilitate access to the resources that smallholders need to thrive by implementing smart targeted policies and public spending designed to benefit those who derive their livelihood from agriculture.

Improved irrigation, farming equipment, storage, market access, and women’s land rights would mean brighter futures for millions. Equally key to their success is access to credit, quality inputs and extension services and training. Public investment in agriculture – as in Europe, the United States, Brazil and China – not only allows for inclusive development as it promotes the development of the value chains but is also a catalyst for private investment and participation in the agriculture sector.

Farmers’ stories
Over the past months, ONE has been working with like-minded partners including farmers organisations and associations across the continent to mobilise and collect signatures from hundreds of thousands of African citizens who are demanding that their leaders step up to the Maputo challenge and “do agric”. We are therefore listening to what farmers are saying, and relaying their stories to governments across the continent.

Adam Yakubu, a cocoa farmer from Ghana, says that transportation has to improve. “You will harvest your product and it will stay at the roadside for a week. Sometimes the food perishes before it gets to the market. And when you get to the market, the pricing kills your soul,” he says.

“It’s not easy. You don’t get income daily, sometimes it’s a yearly affair. Sometimes you have to go on borrowing so [that even] before production begins you are already in debt.”

Maria, a sweet potato farmer from Tanzania, was able to receive training in soil irrigation, crop multiplication, and dividing vines. As a result, she has been able to grow orange sweet potatoes, which are high in vitamin A. “I work happily knowing I will be getting out of poverty by doing what I am doing. I am now a leader in my farming group and teach others what I have learnt,” she says.

In Benin, a high-level agriculture policy forum was organised by ONE and the Beninese National Platform of CSO Actors (PASCiB) in order to boost dialogue between government, farmers’ representatives, civil society organisations, donors and the private sector. This resulted in the Cotonou Consensus ,a policy strategy plan signed this year and already  implementing action to the identified national priorities according to the agreed action plan and timelines.Benin seeks to become an agriculture champion and the rest of Africa should too.

We’ve also launched one of Africa’s largest musical collaborations to date, Cocoa na Chocolate, featuring 19 of the continent’s top recording artists. D’Banj and Femi Kuti from Nigeria, DR Congo’s Fally Ipupa, Côte d’Ivoire’s Tiken Jah Fakoly, Kenya’s Juliani and Victoria Kimani, and South Africa’s Judith Sephuma, among others, have come together to help rebrand agriculture and tell African youth that their future lies beneath their feet and in their hands.

Their voices, in support of African agriculture, are sending a powerful message to the young generation: it’s time for African leaders to scale up public investments in agriculture and ensure policy interventions are targeted to benefit smallholder farmers.

Be part of ONE’s campaign to transform agriculture in Africa by signing the Do Agric petition.

Dr Sipho S. Moyo is Africa director for ONE.