The world needs to produce 50% more food by 2050, and Africa can fill that need. This is the impetus behind the African Development Bank’s investment in agriculture on the continent.
A new African Development Bank (AfDB) initiative aims to lift African farmers out of poverty and ensure continental food security by 2025. The African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative will use proven technology and new research to scale up agriculture on the continent.
Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the AfDB, says there is no reason for Africa to be spending $35-billion a year on food imports. With 65% of the world’s uncultivated land available, Africa could be the biggest food producer by 2050 if the continent takes decisive action now to improve its agriculture sector.
“It is time for Africa to feed itself. It is time for Africa to decisively take advantage of its agriculture sector. Agriculture should now be taken as a business, not a way of life. African countries need to pursue policies and programmes that will allow the continent to become a net food exporting region, while using agricultural industrialisation to add value to processed foods and export commodities.”
Adesina points to the success of Asian and Brazilian investment programmes to highlight the possibilities and importance of sustained investment in agriculture. In east Asia, 400 million people were lifted out of poverty over a decade through agricultural investment. Brazil is now the world’s largest producer of coffee and oranges and the second largest producer of beef and soy through its two decades-long investment in research and building capacity.
“Fulfilling the potential of African agribusiness to meet goals of the strategy could open up markets worth more than US$100-billion per year by 2025,” the AfDB president explains.
Through its Feed Africa Strategy, the bank will also invest $24-billion over the next ten years to support the transformation of African agriculture. Money from both programmes will be invested in:
- Reducing waste and improving distribution systems;
- Funding incentives to increase production of produce such as millet, sorghum, coffee and cashews;
- Infrastructure such as roads, energy and ICT;
- Working with governments to create an enabling regulatory environment across the continent;
- Co-ordinating activities and investment across country borders to kickstart transformation; and,
- Ensuring that transformation delivers inclusivity, sustainability and food security.
Adesina believes that the Feed Africa Strategy and the TAAT will revitalise rural areas and end extreme poverty. “Agricultural transformation will help to revitalise rural areas, turning them from zones of economic misery today, to zones of economic prosperity. This will require significant investments in raising agricultural productivity, development of rural infrastructure and provision of affordable finance, as well as incentives for the private sector to establish food processing and agro-allied industries in rural areas.”
The TAAT and the Feed Africa Strategy comes at a time when investment in agricultural development has been steadily dropping. In 2008, with commodity prices high, $32-billion was invested in agricultural development and research. “One of the challenges in agriculture research is that it needs a long-term, sustained investment and big amounts of money can be more damaging if they’re not sustained than a small, constant contribution. Donors need to do better at providing that continuity and consistency,” says Nick Austin of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The foundation has partnered with the AfDB because, as Austin, the foundation’s director for agricultural development, says: “We are in the position to play a key role in bringing the best technologies available and supporting new ways in delivering this to farmers.”
He believes that Africa can solve its own challenges using existing and new solutions developed in Africa. This is an important initiative, he says, because the world needs to produce 50% more food by 2050 and the continent can fill that need.
Aside from partnering with the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank, the AfDB must work with African governments, and already 25 have signalled their intention to be part of the programme.
Agnes Kalibata, president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, says that working with governments is the best way to ensure that benefits of investment will reach even the most rural subsistence farmer. “We have lots of institutions that are ready for these technologies. We should work with governments to ensure that the technologies are not just ready to work, but become available to their country’s people. I think that ensuring that the farmers get all the technologies they need is going to be very important.”
Adesina explains the benefits by using a simple example. “The TAAT will help to break down decades of national boundary-focused seed release systems. Seed companies will have regional business investments, not just national ones. That will be revolutionary and will open up regional seed industries and markets. It’s the biggest consolidation of efforts to accelerate agriculture technology uptake in Africa. Technology will address the variability and the new pests and diseases that will surely arise with climate change.”
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