Policy reforms urgently required for increased private investment in agriculture and agribusiness in Africa, says Blanke

Jennifer Blanke is the Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank (AfDB). On the occasion of World Food Day, October 16, she spoke on how to make agriculture the game changer to check migration, create wealth and employment.

How does World Food Day align with the Bank’s High 5 priorities?

The purpose of World Food Day is to promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. The theme of this year’s World Food Day is ‘Change the future of migration; Invest in food security and rural development’. This purpose and theme are well aligned with two of the Bank’s High 5 priorities: Feed Africa, and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.

With more than 70% of Africans depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, it is imperative for the sector’s full potential to be unlocked, and by doing so help to vastly improve the lives of Africans. Accordingly, one of the goals of Feed Africa is to eliminate hunger and malnutrition by 2025. In this regard, the Bank is framing its agricultural operations within a government-enabled and private sector driven business-oriented approach, based on a deeper understanding of the obstacles, potential and investment opportunities.

Since Africa’s economic growth has not been rapid or inclusive enough to create enough jobs and improve the quality of life, the Bank is building the technical skills of Africans so that African economies can realize their full potential in high-technology sectors. In addition, the Bank will nearly triple its annual climate financing to reach $5 billion a year by 2020, to ensure climate-friendly agriculture development, among others.

What message would the Bank like to share with African leaders and stakeholders on this day?

Due to the finite nature of mineral resources such as gold, diamonds, crude oil, etc., African countries must diversify their economies. This cannot be done without a significant emphasis on agriculture given that the great majority of Africans depend on it for their livelihoods. However, there is need for a profound paradigm shift in transforming African agriculture and agribusiness. Increased food demand and changing consumption habits driven by demographic factors such as urbanization (internal migration) are leading to rapidly rising net food imports, which will grow from US $35 billion in 2015 to over US $110 billion by 2025 if trends are left unchecked.

Developing a viable and vibrant agriculture and agribusiness in Africa is both a challenge as well as a massive market opportunity for businesses. This includes smallholder farmers, who are the largest private investors in agriculture and produce 80 percent of staple food in Africa. For agribusinesses to make the most of the opportunities, there must be a sustainable shift from subsistence agriculture to a productive for-profit agricultural industry that allows farmers (small, medium and large, plus SMEs) to take part in and benefit more from the market economy.

Agriculture must be seen as a business, not as a way of life. Africa is in a position to build these markets in an environmentally sustainable way, while supporting women by giving them greater access to land, financial services and improved technology. And given that African smallholder farmers are on average about 60 years old, Africa’s food security depends on attracting young people into agriculture and agribusiness and empower them. Governments can support these shifts through the right enabling environments via policy reforms for increased private investment in agriculture and agribusiness. And also by better articulating the importance of agriculture for their economies in their interaction with the public.

Is the Bank participating in any events to mark World Food Day?

On the invitation of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Cote d’Ivoire, the Bank over the weekend joined other developing partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Program, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Organization for Migration, and others in a day-long set of activities organized by the government in a seaside town of Jacquesville, 45 kilometres west of Abidjan. The highlight of the activities was the tour of the stands where processed food and cash crops as well as animal and marine products were exhibited. The statements by the Minister of Agriculture and development partners highlighted the need for government to invest in agriculture to create jobs and stem the scourge of migration that has undermined the security and economies of African countries.

What have been the Bank’s greatest achievements in the last two years in the area of food security?

From 2010 to 2014 alone, the Bank helped African countries to develop their agricultural sectors via: 101 billion square metres of water mobilized for agriculture, 8,791 km of access roads constructed to link markets to production centres, 12 countries supported to develop improved fisheries, 25 countries supported to develop improved livestock,5,349,223 hectares of protected areas designated, 47,604 hectares of community forest plantations, 35 projects approved with climate proofing elements, 582 renewable energy schemes elaborated, and mainstreaming gender in the Bank’s agriculture projects from 83% to 100% .

Yet we can do much more by taking these projects to scale and through better catalysing much more private sector investment. And this is the goal of the Bank’s Feed Africa transformation agenda. We are no longer talking about small businesses, but big businesses in various countries, big investments. This will be supported by a major effort to identify the best and most applicable agricultural practices that exist, take them to scale and replicate them throughout the continent to massively increase agricultural productivity.

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