Africa: Beyond the Tipping Point

By Marshall Matz

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



Africa's unique green revolution, with its focus on smallholder farmers, is now moving beyond the tipping point.  And as smallholder farmers make the transition from subsistence farming to successful entrepreneurs, the continent's green revolution will fundamentally change the face of Africa.  

Last month, the African Union (AU) and African Heads of State met to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). The leaders discussed how to accelerate agricultural growth and committed to “at least” doubling agriculture productivity by 2015 while cutting in half the current levels of post-harvest losses.

The specific goals established by the African Union are to:

1.      Sustain annual agriculture GDP growth of at least 6%;

2.      Triple intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services;

3.      Create job opportunities for 30% of the youth; and

4.      End hunger in Africa by 2025.

This bold agenda is doable, and if achieved, would fundamentally change the face of Africa.  

According to Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless, Co-chair of GROW Africa, and Chairman of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “Given the vast economic and social benefits of a dynamic and modern agricultural sector, providing (smallholder) farmers with the incentives, investments, and regulations that they need to succeed should become a top priority. Africa's farmers need an environment that enables them to overcome the challenges they face. In such a context, the continent's agricultural sector could unleash a revolution akin to that fueled by the communications industry.”

Mr. Masiyiwa continued “With broad action on policy, investment, and technology, Africa's farmers can double their productivity within five years.”

In an effort to build on the African Union's Declaration, as well as the Camp David Declaration of 2010, President Obama will host an Africa Leaders Summit August 4-6 in Washington, D.C.  The White House Summit will focus on many of the broad issues facing Africa, including agriculture, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.   Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, has written to President Obama reinforcing the importance of having an emphasis on agriculture during the Summit. 

Following President Obama's Africa Summit, in the first week of September, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in coordination with the AU, will host the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Ethiopia.  The overall theme for the AGRF is “Beyond the Tipping Point” and will bring together 1,000 leaders from investment firms, agribusiness companies, research institutes, farmers associations, non-governmental organizations and African governments.

So, why all this attention on African agriculture, and why is it important to the United States? Here are just a few reasons:

  1. Six of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa;
  2. Africa is becoming a major market and potential trade partner for U.S. companies;
  3. Half of all the underutilized and unused agricultural land in the world is in Africa.  It is not possible to achieve global food security without Africa;
  4. Africa has around one billion people, but Sub-Saharan Africa has the fastest growing population in the world and the highest youth population in the world. By 2050, Nigeria is expected to be larger than the United States and third in world population behind India and China;
  5. Africa is an important strategic partner for U.S. national security.

As President Obama said in Tanzania last summer, “In our global economy, our fortunes are linked like never before.  So, more growth and opportunity in Africa can mean more growth and opportunity in the United States.  And this is not charity; this is self-interest.  And that's why a key element of my engagement with Africa, and a key focus during this trip, has been to promote trade and investment that can create jobs on both side of the Atlantic.”

The attention on African agriculture by political leaders in Africa and around the world is having a major impact on the ground as it reaches Africa's smallholder farmers.  The immediate focus in Africa is on the 18 African countries that comprise the continent's two breadbasket regions. 

The coordinator and sparkplug for much of the effort is AGRA, working with the AU, the NGO's and the private sector.  Their bold initiative focuses simultaneously on seed development, soil health, markets, capacity building, credit and public policy. 

AGRA-supported plant breeders have so far developed over 440 new and improved crop varieties, many of them now starting to increase smallholder productivity. They have helped to establish and strengthen more than 80 private, African-owned and -operated seed enterprises, which now produce more than 80,000 MT of certified seed of key staple food crops each year - up dramatically from less than 2,500 MT in 2006. 

More than 1.5 million farmers are now using integrated soil fertility management technologies.  Over 2,500 farmer organizations have received intensive business and management training, enabling them to become more sustainable and effective in meeting the needs of smallholder farmers.  Some 20,000 agro-dealers have been established in rural communities to distribute improved seeds, fertilizer and other inputs.  The privately owned agro-dealers are also providing extension services to their customers.  A more detailed summary of the state of play on the ground in Africa can be found in AGRA's 2013 annual report.  

At the end of 2013, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, stepped down as Chairman of AGRA and became its Chairman Emeritus.  In doing so, he said:  “We can move forward together knowing that the transformation of African agriculture is now well underway, and has the momentum needed to achieve our shared vision of a uniquely African Green Revolution.”

 

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General; Chairman Emeritus, AGRA

 

The Secretary General is correct; the African Green Revolution is well underway.  The upcoming White House Summit and the African Green Revolution Forum have the potential to greatly increase the pace of that momentum.

 

On a related subject, the Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) Forum will be held September 29-October 3 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  GCNF assists developing countries in establishing sustainable school feeding programs linked to local agricultural development, a topic that was also addressed by the AU in last month's Malabo Declaration.  See www.gcnf.org for more information.

 

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture and global food security at OFW Law in Washington, D.C.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the World Food Program, USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.  He was formerly Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture.  

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