Last week, 2,000 delegates convened at the United Nations in Nairobi, Kenya one single focus in mind to scale up African agriculture. The African Green Revolution Forum included heads of state (and former heads of state), leaders of the African Union, the business community and civil-society all seeking to grow the agriculture economy and fundamentally change the human condition.
The focus of the forum was to seize the moment by making the political, policy and financial investments needed to achieve the ambitious goals laid out by African heads of state through the African Union and its African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP). The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, coordinated the forum, but it was a very broad alliance with many partners.
His Excellency President Paul Kagame of Rwanda captured the consensus of the meeting: “Agriculture is not just one sector of the economy amongst others – it’s the backbone of the economy.” The President of AGRA, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, was the Minister of Agriculture in Rwanda before she moved to the helm of AGRA.
Since its creation ten years ago AGRA has established a significant record in support of CAADP. CAADP urges all 54 African countries to devote at least 10% of their budgets to agriculture. More than 40 countries have established national agricultural plans aligned with CAADP. The countries that were the first to meet the goal in terms of budget allocation---including Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso---- have been making the most progress.
In Burkina Faso, for example, maize production increased from 1.5 tons per hector to 5 tons per hector with the introduction of new varieties of hybrid seeds. In all, some 555 new certified varieties of hybrid seeds have been released for a wide variety of crops.
At every level of education, capacity has been increased. AGRA has now trained over 600 scientists at the Masters and PhD level. Markets are being established and expanded. Country governments are establishing policies that are business friendly. Dr. Akin Adesina, the new president of the African Development Bank has made agriculture development a top priority and established a new Vice President position for agriculture. But progress across the Continent is still quite inconsistent.
The Forum concluded with the Minister of Agriculture in Kenya, Willy Brett, quoting Dr. Norman Borlaug and his plea to “take it to the farmers.”
There is now, for the first time, a strong public-private agreement in Africa to do just that….take it to the famers. But that is easier said than done.
According to Dr. Richard Edema at Makerere University in Uganda “The real challenge is how to get all these high yield and nutritious crop varieties to rural farmers across Africa. To get these seeds in the hands of the rural farmers is a daunting task.”
- Privately owned Agro- Dealers can play an important role is this process. They are selling small bags of seeds and inputs to farmers and, on occasion, combining it with teaching their customers how to use them efficiently. There are some 17,000 certified Agro-Dealers but that number needs to increase by hundreds of thousands in order to fundamentally change the game.
- Then it must be combined with a dose of education through some public-private cooperation. Once a farmer starts using certified, improved seeds (as opposed to those seeds left over from last year) coupled with a micro-done of fertilizer and some education, the yields can triple or more in one season. One organization, Fips-Africa, is actually giving away small packets of hybrid seeds for a 2 x 5 meter plot to demonstrate the increase in yields and quality.
- The Agro- Dealers may also be in the best position to bring mechanization to smallholder farmers. Individual farmers don’t have the capital or the need for a full time tractor. The local Agro- Dealer could purchase the tractor and make it available to his customers. (Interestingly, there was a 35 HP tractor parked on the UN lawn.)
- TV is also being used along with high technology for extension services since some 70% of the population is involved in farming….a dramatic contrast to the United States.
- AGRA for its part will be using a new integrated approach at the farmer level, the national level and the system level. Further, AGRA will be implementing this program, on the ground, establishing offices in 11 countries to reach the maximum number of farmers. (Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mozambique. Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Malawi)
- New coalitions and public-private partnerships are coming together. A new potato consortium was announced during the Forum. Companies producing potato products in East Africa have announced a commitment to purchase 600 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes per month to meet rapidly growing consumer demand. There is a West Africa Center for Crop Improvement in Ghana and an African Fertilizer Partnership in South Africa under the direction of Dr. Namanga Ngongi. Expanding the use of fertilizer in Africa is important as it uses only 10% the global average.
This is not of course a comprehensive list of what is needed to maximize African agriculture. In due course, irrigation, credit issues, crop insurance and other components of a vibrant farm economy will have to be address. “The goal”, as outlined by President Kenyatta of Kenya “is for smallholder farmers to become profitable businesses so they can improve the quality of life for their families.”