SPIKE - The solution to Africa feeding itself is clear-cut

Fields of plenty: Private-public partnerships are key to boosting the contribution of Africa's smallholder farmers. (Madelene Cronjé)

Fields of plenty: Private-public partnerships are key to boosting the contribution of Africa's smallholder farmers. (Madelene Cronjé)

Leaders meeting in Davos this week are confronted with critical challenges. One is how to realise the prospects of African agriculture.

Investment in this sector has doubled in the past decade as governments recognise the crucial importance of agriculture to people’s wellbeing, social stability and economic growth. But hunger remains widespread and Africa is the only continent that cannot feed itself.

It is hard to understand how the continent, with 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, still suffers so badly from under- and malnutrition and spends $35?billion a year importing food.

Shortly after the African Union’s summit in Malabo, which saw bold commitments to end hunger by 2025 by accelerating agricultural growth and transformation, I met leaders from the public and private sectors at the 2014 African Green Revolution Forum to discuss strategies to make this happen. This week we are publishing a report on the outcome of these discussions.

First, the role of smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of farmers, is crucial. Governments and the private sector can develop partnerships and expand links with them and farmers’ organisations, filling critical gaps in the food chain. The greatest success will come if bigger farms share market access, technology and knowledge with smaller farmers.

Better infrastructure
Second is the need for better rural infrastructure to connect thousands of farmers to viable road networks, power grids, irrigation systems and essential infrastructure. A government investing in these areas will earn huge returns.

Third, to create an environment conducive to agricultural productivity, governments need to put in place institutions and policies that are far-sighted, can be sustained beyond the tenure of particular elected officials and promote long-term benefit over short-term gain.

Fourth, increase access to financial services for farmers to grow agribusinesses. Without proper financing, we cannot expect higher yields or better nutrition. Enabling a farmer to acquire good seed and use measures to enhance soil fertility is the first step out of poverty.

Fifth, successful farmers today are those who find viable solutions to dealing with climate change. It is already having an effect on weather patterns and growing seasons. Climate-smart agricultural solutions can improve food security and farming resilience by increasing productivity.

Sixth, regional barriers, from tariffs to transportation cartels, are restricting trade. If farmers cannot sell their produce in the next country, it is much harder to develop a profitable business.

Mobilise young people
Seventh, mobilise our young people and empower women. When a continent has both the highest rate of youth unemployment and an agricultural sector desperately in need of more labour, something is amiss. Women make up the majority of smallholder farmers in most African countries. They must be supported far more effectively. More investment is also needed in training and technical support targeted at Africa’s younger generation.

Eighth, give those in the agricultural sector better access to information with cellphones and the internet. If we do, they will find the ways to revolutionise farming, food production and the rural economy in a similar way to how technology and consumer power changed Africa’s banking industry.

Last, increase yields without harming the environment by investing in applied research. Developing locally adapted varieties will become an increasingly important priority as the impacts of climate change become more extreme.

The goal must be a uniquely African green revolution that successfully adapts global experiences to local conditions. It is a vision that decisively shifts away from subsistence farming to growing profitable businesses. It puts smallholder farmers at its heart and understands that larger enterprises also have a major part to play.

Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary general from 1997 to 2006, is the chairperson of the Kofi Annan Foundation

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