Africa struggles to meet agricultural targets

The focus of agricultural spending sometimes locks out crucial segments of society such as smallholder farmers and women. (Photo: CGIAR)

The focus of agricultural spending sometimes locks out crucial segments of society such as smallholder farmers and women. (Photo: CGIAR)

In June 2014, an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease ravaged a third of Uganda, exposing the handicap the East African country faces when dealing with agricultural emergencies.

The country’s agriculture ministry was reduced to a mere bystander as the viral disease, which targets cloven-hoofed animals such a cows, goats and pigs, hit nearly 30 districts in the east and north.

The ministry’s efforts to co-ordinate the fight against the epidemic were hampered from the start. First, it imposed a quarantine on the movement of animals but was unable to monitor it effectively, resulting in the continued transportation of infected animals after bribes were paid.

Then there was a half-hearted vaccination programme of animals in the affected areas, which left already angry farmers complaining of perceived discrimination.

Eventually, as pressure from farmers and politicians intensified, the commissioner for livestock health and entomology, Dr Chris Rutebarika, admitted that the ministry did not have the funds to buy sufficient vaccination doses. In fact, he did not have funds to fight many other livestock diseases.

“I actually need vaccines but I don’t see anybody giving us enough money very, very soon because we are not talking about only one disease; how about others?” Dr Rutebarika asked in an interview with the Mail & Guardian Africa.

“There is a ceiling as to what you can spend; you wouldn’t have so much money to play around with,” he added. “It is a country problem, not a ministry problem.”

Perennial underfunding

On July 12, 2003, Uganda was among the African Union (AU) member countries that signed onto what came to be known as the “Maputo declaration target”. Signatory heads of states and government pledged to allocate 10% of their country’s national budget to agriculture, and to achieve at least 6% annual growth, as part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

That year, Uganda allocated 4.1% of its budget to agriculture. More than 10 years later, the country is yet to meet that target. In its latest national budget, for the 2014/15 financial year, it set aside 3.9% of its budget to the sector. Its highest allocation since 2003 has been 5.7% of the budget in 2005/06; yet the agricultural sector directly employs at least 75% of the population.

Several other countries that signed the declaration have also fallen short of meeting the Maputo declaration targets. According to recent studies, only 14 African countries have met or exceeded the 10% threshold.

The countries include Burundi, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Guinea. The others are Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Rwanda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Of those 14 countries, only Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Niger and Senegal have exceeded the target.

A study by the Regional Strategic Analyses and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS), the Africa-wide agricultural data network, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the declaration’s signing, says while the countries that have not met the targets have still made progress by increasing their allocations to agriculture, the amounts invested have not been enough to bring about substantial changes.

“The amount of PAE [public agricultural expenditure] in Africa as a whole increased rapidly in 2003–2010 (7.4% per year on average), but as this growth rate was slower than the growth in total expenditures, the share of PAE in total expenditures declined,” states the 2012 report Complying with the Maputo Declaration Target.

Several reasons are advanced by studies to explain why the majority of the African countries have failed to meet the agreed targets. They include giving areas such as defence and administration spending greater priority, poor planning to harness the vast agricultural potential, and a limited interest in agriculture due to an abundance of natural resources that bring in foreign exchange.

There is also the smallholder nature of most African farmers, which limits their influence and a basic lack of political will, which often has a ripple effect on many of the other factors. “In political systems characterised by generally low accountability, it is, of course, fairly easy to sign up to a commitment such as the Maputo declaration (to gain peer approval),” says a February 2014 working paper by Futures Agriculture, an Africa-based alliance of research organisations.

“This does not necessarily convey full political commitment when there are urgent competing priorities or where there are collective action problems within national political leaderships.” The result is that African countries have hitherto not been able to realise the agricultural potential of an otherwise naturally endowed continent, resulting in the persistence of food shortages and, in some cases, famine.

Way forward

Even for countries that have met the Maputo declaration target, critics say the bigger worry is now on the focus of spending, which sometimes locks out crucial segments of society such as smallholder farmers, and women. “CAADP is promoting a farming model associated with the Green Revolution, which promotes the use of expensive external inputs such as chemical fertilisers, pesticides and improved and/or hybrid seeds bought from agribusiness companies; this comes at the expense of promoting sustainable agriculture approaches that are likely to benefit poor farmers much more,” says a May 2013 report by Action Aid titled Fair Shares: is CAADP Working?

This assessment is backed by the Futures Agriculture report, which notes that countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda, which increased the agriculture share of their budgets and have reaped dividends from the move, invested in smallholder agriculture from the get-go — largely due to the strong domestic politics incentives of such a decision.

“In both cases a combination of history plus current internal and external opposition (including an armed component) means that the government knows it has to deliver broad-based benefits to the population, and perhaps especially the rural population, in order to justify its hold on power. Attention to smallholder agriculture is the most obvious way to do this,” says the report. Where such conditions are not prevalent, governments will have to undertake comprehensive research and crunch the numbers in order to ensure efficient utilisation of the resources allocated to the agriculture sector, says the ReSAKSS report.

“Investing in public accounts systems that provide these types of information, and making the data publicly available, will enhance the political accountability of governments to their citizens and promote mutual accountability of state and non-state actors in agricultural development, key to achieving an optimal allocation of resources,” says the report.

Experts also lay considerable emphasis on the importance of agricultural research. On October 10, 2013, while delivering a speech on strengthening agricultural public expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa, World Bank vice-president for Africa Makhtar Diop noted that shrewd usage of the increased funding in agriculture, such as investing more money on high returns yielding programmes, pays dividends.

“We know from global studies that for example investments in research to develop and disseminate technological innovations in agriculture yield very high rates of return,” he said. “For sub-Saharan Africa, on average each $100 invested (a one-time expenditure) in agricultural research produces future benefits each year estimated at around $35. That is a huge rate of return.”

Four months earlier, African heads of states and government had made a fresh pledge; to use a unified approach to end poverty on the continent by 2025 within the CAADP framework. While this renews hope and offers another avenue for African leaders to meet the targets set in the Maputo declaration, the experience of the previous 12 years demonstrates that they will need to have all hands on deck.

This article is from the eBook On Africa’s Farms, a supplement produced by Mail & Guardian Africa, in partnership with TrustAfrica