The Alliance for Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) ended in Nairobi on Friday after a week of intense and crucial discussions around the status of Africa’s agriculture, its capacity to feed its people, how to improve the lives of the millions of impoverished smallholder farmers that produce more than 80 per cent of the continent’s food, etc.
The forum also held its signature event – the Deal Room – that really is a marketplace that brings together investors looking for opportunities to put their money in and agripreneurs with ideas but lacking funds. Governments also get to pitch opportunities in their countries. The worth of the deals discussed ranges from US$500,000 to US$500 million.
A lot of stuff was said, some new, some not so new.
Self-evident truths like the centrality of smallholder agriculture to the continent’s socio-economic development were repeated. We heard that despite this, the smallholder farmers lack the capacity to increase yields from their modest pieces of land because of cost, accessibility of inputs, lack of knowledge, lack of support services, post-harvest losses, inadequate financing, limited application or complete lack of innovation in farming, distortions in the market denying the farmer full value of their produce, etc.
Newer challenges were also discussed, especially those relating to climate change and degradation of the environment. Unpredictable weather patterns, low or sub-optimal rains because of the impact of gas emissions have made already hard lives almost unbearable.
Lack of knowledge about smart agricultural practices that can increase yields and still protect the environment means that the farmers are unable to apply tools and knowledge within their reach to improve their lot.
Governments were quick to extol policies that they said demonstrated the high priority they give to the sector, although barely four have attained the Malabo commitment to allocate a minimum of 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture.
It was obvious it is not shortage of ideas and policies that hampers the growth of this sector, but rather commitment to execute fairly well thought out policies.
The fragility of the agriculture and food systems, despite decent progress across the African countries, was starkly exposed when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the world to shut down through much of 2020 and early part of 2021.
From planting activities through to market access, disruptions to movement and meetings made it impossible to sustain normalcy. Formerly food-secure communities were threatened with hunger and had to grapple with little or no food.
This reality, which still obtains to a great extent, underscores the appropriateness of the discourse at the AGRF summit, which is sure to continue during the global UN Food Systems Summit coming up shortly in New York.
Africa needs to align its message to make a strong case about what it must do and what support it needs to ensure that it feeds its people in a sustainable manner, while protecting the environment. The abomination that the world wastes close to $1 trillion worth of food annually as millions starve must be confronted.
It was evident also from the forum that although the challenge of transforming Africa’s agriculture is enormous, it can be tackled because there are ample resources and willingness to support. Development partners like Agra and its Piata partners, the African Development Bank, Syngenta, the African Union and numerous others have mobilised resources that are used to supplement efforts of individual countries.
Agra approximates that transforming agriculture over the next decade will require up to $400 billion, and that currently, there is a funding gap of about $23 billion annually. Given that African countries are investing a meagre $2 billion and $3 billion in agriculture annually, the resource gap is daunting but not insurmountable.
African governments waste colossal amounts of money through carelessness, poor policy implementation, duplication of efforts and corruption. Some estimates have put Africa’s loss at $50 billion annually through corruption! Some discipline here could do wonders.
Then there is the private sector, which is a tremendous force if the right policies and incentives are put in place to encourage it to invest either in the input side to provide smallholder farmers with the inputs they needs or to off-take the harvests at competitive prices that give farmers some good value. The interest in the Deal Room last year helped mobilise more than $400 million worth of resources.
There is more than enough resources to fund Africa’s agriculture and the real implied message from the AGRF forum last week is a plea to Africa’s leaders to style up and do right by their people.
[email protected], @tmshindi