Sowing seeds for the upswing

Agriculture is the future of Africa, says Professor Richard Mkandawire, New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (Nepad) agricultural adviser, and the only way to reach that milestone is to find sustainable solutions for the continent’s most pressing issues.

“Building Africa means building agriculture,” he says. “Agriculture is a conduit for poverty reduction.”
Mkandawire is the winner of this year’s Drivers of Change individual award and one of the visionaries of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a programme endorsed by the African Union Assembly. It has been making a big contribution to find sustainable solutions to poverty on the continent.

In the five short years since its inception the programme, established as part of Nepad, has won praise from all over Africa and the world.

Unlike numerous externally driven efforts, which have failed to produce tangible results to improve food security and economic growth in Africa in the past 50 years, the CAADP is succeeding in coordinating action across the continent on important regional policies such as agriculture, food safety standards and the control of transboundary pests and diseases.

But many believe the success of the programme is largely because of the vision, leadership and passion of Mkandawire, the man at the helm.

Ask this quiet and unassuming man about the success of the project and he is quick to tell you that it is because CAADP is a homegrown initiative, crafted by African leaders to respond to Africa’s underdevelopment and marginalisation within the context of the broader global political economy.

This is the first time in the history of the African agrarian debate that a collective framework has been adopted by African leaders that tackles growth, poverty reduction, food and nutrition-security issues in such a comprehensive way. For the first time in the history of agricultural development and cooperation African countries have put together a growth agenda that is not only African-owned and African-led, but also enjoys a broad consensus on objectives, targets, implementation processes and partnership principles.

This is also the first time in the history of agricultural policy and procedure that the voice of the recipients themselves has been a factor in the design of programme initiatives.

This is all due, in no small measure, to Mkandawire’s considerable negotiation skills and the level of respect he enjoys from African leaders, decision-makers, scientists and the rural farmers themselves.

Malawi-born Mkandawire is an internationally recognised agricultural- and socio-economist and rural development expert. A graduate of the University of Malawi, he also studied at University of Missouri and received a PhD from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

In her motivation for nominating him for the Drivers of Change award, Sheryl Hendriks of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s African Centre for Food Security says that “the quiet yet determined resolve of this well-respected agricultural economist has attracted considerable international attention to the plight of African agriculture and development and has raised considerable hope for Africa’s future”. This, in turn, has resulted in an unprecedented alignment of major international donors in support of the programme.

All the good news about an upswing in Africa’s food production and economies implies that the changes required to reduce poverty significantly and eliminate malnutrition are actually within the reach of many African countries. “Sustaining this growth and encouraging its spread to the rest of Africa is what CAADP is aiming for,” Mkandawire says.

Apart from looking at extending the areas under sustainable land management, the programme is also working towards establishing reliable water-control systems and rural infrastructure, as well as improving and stimulating agricultural research and systems to disseminate appropriate new technologies. Climate change scientists have predicted that Africa’s subsistence farmers will be hardest hit by global warming. It comes as no surprise that this enterprising driver of change has already introduced mechanisms into the project to alleviate the its effect. “Climate change is key to the agriculture agenda of Africa,” he says, “and we need to find ways to improve productivity in the wake of the expected changes in weather and rainfall patterns.”

Under Mkandawire’s leadership the CAADP has been fashioned into a vehicle to spearhead the green revolution in Africa. “This is a decade of hope for the future of African agriculture,” he says. “The seeds for progress in spurring an African green revolution have been sown.”

Matter of fact
The article was inadvertently omitted from the Investing in the Future supplement (October 24).
In the same publication, in “Banking on volunteers to make an impact”, a statement by FNB commercial banking chief executive Iris Dempsey on the company’s life skills and mentoring programme for youth was incorrectly linked to an unrelated community project run by Momentum in De Aar.

We apologise for the errors.

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