Africa’s agricultural potential is a relevant topic considering growing populations and worldwide food insecurity, especially in Africa. The World Bank states that 60% of the world’s uncultivated, arable land is in sub-Saharan Africa, yet many African countries have to import the majority of their food to feed their populations.
According to Caroline Kende-Robb, executive director of the Africa Progress Panel, Nigeria is estimated to import US$2bn of rice annually, although it has the potential to be exporting this amount.
“That to me kind of typifies the challenges of agriculture in Africa because you see this huge country with all this potential for exporting rice. Now the new minister [of agriculture] is trying to do something about that and they are doing a lot of investing to try and balance that. But that is such a waste on so many different levels,” Kende-Robb told How we made it in Africa.
In an effort to increase local rice production, the Nigerian government has proposed a plan to ban rice imports into the country by 2015.
However, while Nigeria’s agricultural sector has much room for progress, Kende-Robb said the country has been making some impressive strides. For example, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development, has launched a plan to add 20m metric tons of food to the domestic supply and create 3.5m new jobs.
“In the first year of its transformation push, Nigeria reached over 75% of its job creation target and has met the UN Millennium Development Goal number one, reducing the population of hungry people by half, three years ahead of schedule,” stated Kende-Robb in a recent article by the Africa Progress Panel.
“But while Nigeria’s agricultural sector employs 58% of the country’s active workforce and cultivates just 40% of its available arable land, official sources say it spends just 2% of its GDP on agriculture. Even in Nigeria, there is room for further progress. Nigeria must spend an additional $2.4bn per year on much-needed agricultural investments to meet the 10% target established by the Maputo Declaration.”
The Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa was signed by African heads of state and governments during an assembly of the African Union in Maputo, Mozambique in July 2003. Alongside several important steps regarding agriculture development was the commitment to allocate at least 10% of national budget towards agriculture and food security within five years.
However, only eight countries have kept their promise.
African agriculture should be about business
The Africa Progress Panel – chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan – consists of 10 influential members who advocate for shared responsibility between African leaders and their international partners to promote fair and sustainable development for Africa.
The panel maintains that unlocking the potential of Africa’s smallscale farmers is key to reaching the continent’s agricultural capability.
However, Kende-Robb highlighted that Africa’s farmers need to be viewed as businesspeople and advancing agriculture in Africa should not be the sole role of development agencies and NGOs, but rather the role of business investment.
“It’s about listening to the farmers and having an enabling environment; connecting them to the right sources of finance, which are missing across Africa, and connecting them to basic infrastructure. And they will do the rest,” she added.
“Agriculture is not about development, it’s about business.”
However, unlocking the potential in Africa’s smallscale farmers not only has business and economic advantages, but wide-ranging social development benefits – from employment to reduction of poverty. For example, Kende-Robb stated that in countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya, agricultural growth has been shown to reduce poverty twice as fast as any other sector.
Large scale land grabs need to benefit African countries
Kende-Robb told How we made it in Africa that there is definitely a land grab across Africa where foreign companies acquire and farm large portions of land, use scarce resources such as water, and then export agricultural produce at the detriment of the country’s people. However, she highlighted that not all large land acquisitions by foreign companies are negative, and can be a win-win for all parties if deals are negotiated fairly with governments.
“If you take Ethiopia where a lot of land remains fallow, it would be great if foreign investors came and invested in that land and worked with the governments and the local people. It’s about getting that relationship right… It’s not about discouraging investment, it’s about getting the right investment that benefits the government and the local communities, as well as benefits the investor too,” she said.
“It’s definitely possible, but that is not how a lot of the deals are being done at this moment in time, and that is what is worrying.”