‘Investor, look to African agriculture’

11 May 2012

African agriculture is undergoing a transformation, creating a new era of opportunity for both farmers and investors, according to African and global leaders at the World Economic Forum on Africa.

The Grow Africa Investment Forum, convened jointly by the African Union, Nepad and the World Economic Forum (WEF), engaged over 270 leaders at the gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday.

These included heads of state and government from Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania, as well as leaders of African and global business, international and donor agencies and farmer organizations.

Huge investment potential

Forum participants noted that African agriculture offers tremendous growth potential to investors, which in turn promised to strengthen food security and economic opportunity on the continent.

Greater private-sector investment and improvements to the business enabling environment were needed to capture this potential, delegates were told.

The leaders noted that much of the continent’s agricultural potential remains untapped. “We have scratched the surface, but we haven’t yet broken the mould,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. “When we do that, you will see the explosion of development in Africa.”

During Thurday’s session, seven countries showcased specific investment and partnership opportunities aligned to their national priorities for agricultural transformation.

‘We are ready to do business’

“We are ready to do business; that’s why we came to this meeting,” said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, noting that Tanzania’s agriculture investment strategy prioritized groups that could most benefit from new market opportunities.

“When we bring in the private sector, it is to benefit the smallholder farmers,” Kikwete said. “We need to modernize agriculture and make it more attractive to youth.”

President Kikwete added that governments had an important role to play in providing support in areas of irrigation, inputs and building commodity markets. However, private sector investment was also essential in order to avoid over-dependence on subsidies.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that African countries could “mobilize farmers into an entrepreneurial mindset and create new opportunities for women, youth and rural entrepreneurs.”

‘New ways of leveraging the agriculture sector’

The Grow Africa partnership has developed significant momentum since it was launched at the 2011 World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa.

A total of 116 companies participated in the Grow Africa Investment Forum, including 49 African and 47 multinational companies, plus 20 from other regions such as Asia and the Middle East.

“Much of the investment in Africa can come from Africa if we provide the right financing mechanisms and policy environment,” said African Export-Import Bank president Jean-Louis Ekra.

According to Unilever executive vice-president Frank Braeken, African leaders “are defining new ways to leverage the agriculture sector as a driver of inclusive and sustainable growth. This offers new agribusiness opportunities that are increasingly attractive to investors.”

Empowering African farmers ‘crucial’

Participants agreed that empowering African farmers would be central to the future of agriculture on the continent.

“Smallholder farmers are a sleeping giant in Africa,” said Dyborn Chibonga, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi. “That sleeping giant needs to be mobilized into collective action groups.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the way to realize this was through increasing the productivity of small farmers and having them well organized and collaborative in order to take advantage of supply chains and investments

Ethiopia has achieved significant gains in agricultural productivity using this model in recent years, setting aside 16% of its national budget for agriculture – well above the 10% to which all African governments have committed themselves.

The Grow Africa partnership, coordinated by the African Union, Nepad and the WEF, aims to “galvanize sustainable investment into African agriculture based on country-led priorities,” the WEF said on Thursday.

According to the WEF, Grow Africa builds upon the CAADP, which works to boost African agricultural productivity through sector development plans. Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia are the first countries to engage with Grow Africa.

“The Grow Africa platform is open to all countries, and can accelerate the implementation of national investment plans developed through the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme,” said African Union chairperson Jean Ping.

The potential seen in African agriculture presents a transformational opportunity, according to WEF vice-chairman Josette Sheeran. “Working together, we can ensure that when we meet in 10 years, it will be in an Africa that is not only feeding itself, but helping to feed the world.”

SAinfo reporter and World Economic Forum