In just the last two months the White House has hosted an African Summit, the African Green Revolution Forum was held in Ethiopia bringing together 1000 public and private sector experts, and the focus at the United Nations is “Climate Smart Agriculture.”  

The goal, according to Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, is to double African agriculture production in the next five years.  This would not only reduce hunger but it would catapult the African economy. The good news is that Africa is on its way to achieving this goal. If the goal is reached, it will help Africa and global food security too.  (Don’t forget that Africa has half of the underutilized farm land in the world.)

Mr. Annan’s goal is shared by the African Union, the organization that represents Africa’s 54 nations.  In the United States, 1% of the population feeds the nation, and many other too; in Africa some 65% of the population farms.  While American’s spend less than 10% of our disposable income on food, Africans must devote the vast majority of their income to food.  It is common for our farmers to yield some 200 bushels of corn per acre, while in Africa 20 bushels an acre is common.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Rockefeller Foundation, have created the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, to coordinate a public-private effort to boost agriculture production and grow Africa out of poverty. 

AGRA’s seed program has now released over 450 new varieties carefully selected for their compatibility with the African environment.  The seeds include locally adapted varieties of maize, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, soybeans, bananas and other African staples. 

Other AGRA programs focus on soil health, markets, capacity building, financing and public policy in those countries that make up Africa’s two “breadbaskets.”

“Africa has the resources necessary to feed its population and to help feed the world as well” according to Dr. Akin Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria. It is a rich continent with poor people.  Agriculture already accounts for over one-third of Africa’s gross national product. Further, agriculture has strong multiplier effects on employment and is critical to achieving broad based economic growth, reducing poverty and addressing youth unemployment. 

While continuing to expand seed production, markets and the other building blocks of modern agriculture there are two major challenges. 

The first challenge is to get the modern seeds and other inputs needed to boost production to the smallholder farmers that are the backbone of African agriculture.  There are now some 20,000 local agro-dealers in rural AfricaThey are privately owned businesses…. mom and pop agriculture stores reaching smallholder farmers in the local villages.  Africa needs 200,000. 

The agro-dealer network has provided farmers with over 400,000 metric tons of seed and one million metric tons of fertilizers. Farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda and Ghana are reporting that improved hybrid seed varieties along with other inputs have doubled harvests.  Further, agro-dealers can provide extension services to educate smallholder farmers on best practices and tractors to help mechanization.  It is clearly time to replace hoes with tractors.  

The other major challenge in Africa is government policy.  While many African countries are responding to the African Union’s call to allocate at least ten percent of their national budgets to agriculture, more attention must also be given to consistent and reliable government regulatory policies.  Trade within Africa must be made easier and governments can also help with guaranteed financing for smallholder farmers and other creative initiatives as well.  In Kenya, Governor Mutua in Mackakos County has purchased tractors and is lending them to farmers for one day at a time. 

In the United States it may be understandable that we take agriculture and food production for granted.  We are the most efficient country in the history of the world when it comes to food production.  Most of our political leaders, including President Obama, come from our big cities.  But if we want to help Africa and its emerging private sector economy we must give more time and thought to agriculture.  The African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, should be amended to provide Africa with agriculture technical assistance.  Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to make the Feed the Future initiative permanent. (S. 2909 and H.R. 5656) These bills should be enacted as a part of climate smart agriculture initiative.  

Africa is on the cusp of great change with six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world.  It is agriculture that is going to drive the next stage in Africa’s economic development, as it did in the United States after President Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture and the land grant universities.  Africa is developing improved seeds, using micro-doses of fertilizer exploring water efficient irrigation.  It is an African smart unique green revolution.  With over half of the world’s unused farm land, Africa is going to play a key role in the global food challenge. 

According to Forbes Magazine, Mr. Strive Masiyiwa is the Bill Gates of AfricaThe Econet Wireless Group headed by Masiyiwa and based in South Africa now operates in 17 countries, employees 6,000 and generates $3 billion a year.  Yet, Masiyiwa is the first to say that it is agriculture development that will drive the African economy. 





Marshall Matz was Counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.  He serves on the Board of the World Food Program—USA and the Congressional Hunger Center.