Pushing African agribusiness to $1tr mark

Through CAADP, Africa is slowly but steadily moving forward. Countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda and others have placed agriculture at the top of their development priorities list. Martin Bwalya, the head of CAADP, says that over the past years, 40 countries have either signed the compact or finalised investment plans while 13 others have yet to sign up to CAADP. However, the NEPAD 2014 report highlights that just nine out of Africa’s 54 countries have met the target of 10% of budget allocation, while another group of nine are currently spending between 5% and 10%.

To commemorate 10 years of CAADP, African leaders declared 2014 the year of agriculture and food security in Africa. With African agriculture growing at 4%, the leaders hope to build on that momentum in the coming years.

Even these modest gains are commendable, analysts believe. They are a “strong contrast to what many acknowledge to be inadequate or even nonexistent national strategies that previously governed Africa’s agricultural sector”, according to the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. Hennie van der Merwe, CEO of the South Africa-based Agribusiness Development Corporation, adds that “Africa is currently experiencing a revival in terms of its focus on agribusiness, not only to increase food self-sufficiency, but also to create jobs and economic activity, specifically in rural areas”.

The World Bank concurs: “Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Zimbabwe all have been successful exporters in terms of market share… Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique and Zambia stand out as African success stories in terms of significant increases in export market shares since 1991.”

Land problems

Political commitment and investment aside, another lingering problem is land allocation and acquisition. Farmers in many countries cannot expand their farming because they have limited access to land, and discriminatory laws sometimes prevent women from gaining ownership. The World Bank report addresses the need for judicious and equitable land allocations, stressing that such allocations shouldn’t threaten people’s livelihoods. Land purchases also need to follow ethical standards. For example, buyers should pay fair market rates after consultation with local communities.

In 2011, the Oakland Institute, a US-based think tank, reported unfair land deals in South Sudan, under which foreign companies bought up fertile and mostly uncultivated land. Such deals did not clarify land tenure and usage, and worse, even threatened the land rights of rural communities. “Governments and investors must also put in place effective environmental and social safeguards to reduce potential risks of agribusiness investments, especially those associated with large-scale land acquisitions by investors,” the institute advised.

Taking the ICT route

Experts generally agree that technology, particularly information and communication technology (ICT), will boost agriculture. In an earlier report titled ICT for Agriculture in Africa, the World Bank listed ways in which ICT could support agriculture at every stage: pre-cultivation (crop and land selection, access to credit, etc.) crop cultivation and harvesting (land preparation, management of water, fertiliser and pest control, etc.) and post-harvest (marketing, transportation, packaging, food processing, etc.). Geographical information systems can be used for land-use planning and climate change adaptation, for example, the Bank stated.

Already farmers in Kenya and Zimbabwe have deployed ICT in ways that have increased their income and productivity. Charles Dhewa, a Zimbabwean communication specialist, in 2012 launched eMkambo, an integrated virtual market where farmers and buyers share knowledge and transact business by means of mobile phones.

Farmers are also using ICT in other ways: to share new production processing and marketing skills in Burkina Faso; to trace mangoes via a system that connects Malian farmers to global consumers; to garner important information that improves forest governance in Liberia; to provide SMS-based services developed by Zambia’s National Farmers Union. The World Bank says such ICT initiatives have been successful in part because “real economic value was added either because of savings resulting from the use of ICT or an increase in revenue or profitability”.

Such is the importance of ICT to agriculture that in 2011 the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the UN agency dedicated to poverty eradication in developing countries, called for policy innovations to make technology the main driver of African agriculture.

There is still some distance to cover to realise the dream of a $1tr agribusiness. But many hands are already on deck. Ghana and Senegal are forging ahead with rice production, Zambia’s 88m hectares of available land are said to be quite suitable for maize and Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria already account for two thirds of the world’s cocoa. There is abundant water and land, increasing private sector investment and political commitment, all of which provide flickers of hope for a sector under revival. The World Bank says an African agribusiness sector is not just important for the sake of Africa but “essential for ensuring global food security”.

This article was first published by Africa Renewal