Boosting the agriculture sector

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The African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2014-a gathering of more than 1,000 agriculture officials, farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, civil society organizations and pioneers in agribusiness representing 60 countries-concluded Thursday September 4,

in Nelson Mandela Hall at the headquarters at the African Union with a forceful call to action to transform food production across Africa.
After four days of extensive consultations on implementation of the African Union’s recent Malabo Declaration to double food production and end hunger, former Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who co-chairs the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, said he could sense an impatience to get on with the tasks ahead.
“The theme of this AGRF should be ‘less talk, more action,’” he said. “Africa is ready to catch up with the rest of the world.”
“This is a turning point for us,” said Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union. She added “we have the political will and the commitments to achieve sustainable food and nutritional security across the continent. We are developing the roadmap for countries to absorb, adjust and plan to meet those targets within the CAADP framework. Discussions this week at AGRF are an important step towards the actions we must take collectively to accelerate agricultural transformation in Africa.”
State Minister of Agriculture, Mitiku Kassa said, “AGRF 2014 comes at an important time. The Government of Ethiopia and Governments across Africa mark ten years since the initiation of the CAADP and embrace the new commitments that emerged in Malabo. I invite Ethiopian citizens and friends of Ethiopia to hold us accountable for the realization of this vision,” he said.
The call to action from AGRF 2014 was manifest in a wide array of discussions during the meeting. Delegates revealed the many ways that transformation is already happening across Africa’s agriculture sector. They asserted that with proper investment, guidance and leadership it can unfurl on a much larger scale.
A common conference theme was the role of governments in stimulating more investment from the private sector in agriculture-oriented enterprises.
Daniel Gad, an Ethiopian-born entrepreneur and commercial farmer, said government incentives were the crucial factor that lured him back to Ethiopia from the United States to develop a floral company and export-focused commercial vegetable farms.
He said Africa’s agriculture sector is rich with business opportunities that can provide jobs and income but that governments need a “focused plan for attracting investment.”
Gad said the policies that attracted him to Ethiopia included tax incentives, access to financing and removal of bureaucratic obstacles to hiring foreign nationals, who were needed to train the domestic staff. “The government thought through a series of obstacles to investing in agriculture, and that is a model that can be repeated throughout Africa,” he said.
But while good governance was cited as essential to progress, several leaders including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan cautioned that “governments can’t do everything. What [governments] can and need to do, is to release entrepreneurial skills.”
Access to credit by smallholder farmers was identified as a key obstacle holding farmers back. Deputy Director General of the South African Ministry of Agriculture Elaine Alexander indicated that the call to action could quickly stall if there is not a way to solve the dearth of farm to fork capital available to farmers and other enterprises. “How do we encourage the private sector to invest when our own banks don’t?”
Other discussions focused on the importance of addressing land rights, soil health, seed production policies, climate change adaption, post-harvest processing, and the lack of basic farm machinery.
For many delegates, the hoe symbolizes the lack of progress on smallholder farms. Dyborn Chibonga, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi (NASFAM) called for “the UN to declare the hand hoe a weapon of mass urbanization.”
Delegates heard innovative strategies to beat corruption and provide credit to farmers in Nigeria. Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, shared his country’s experience with e-credit schemes for seed and fertilizer purchases sent to farmers’ mobile phones. According to Adesina, this program has ended decades of an inefficient and ineffective-yet critically important-government subsidies program.
“If it had not been for subsidies, India would not be the powerhouse it is today. It’s what kick-started the transformation of India’s and Asia’s economy,” Adesina added.“We know the statistics…on hunger, nutrition and stunting, we know the condition of the climate. Talk is no longer enough. It’s time to act now. All of us gathered here know what needs to be done and we must do it,” said Strive Masiyiwa, Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and Executive Chairman and founder of Econet Wireless Group.