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Government support more important than seeds, weather and soil in Africa’s agriculture progress

Catalyzing State Capacity to Drive Agriculture Transformation reportGov­ern­ment ac­tion is more im­port­ant than seeds, weather and soil in trans­form­ing small, fam­ily farms into poverty-fight­ing power­houses to­wards achiev­ing Africa’s ag­ri­cul­ture pro­gress.

The re­port, “Cata­lyz­ing State Ca­pa­city to Drive Ag­ri­cul­ture Trans­form­a­tion,” is the most com­pre­hens­ive as­sess­ment to date of the role of state ca­pa­city and polit­ical will in achiev­ing that “trans­form­a­tion,” a catch-all term for work re­quired to boost pro­duc­tion and in­comes on the mil­lions of small, fam­ily farms that grow most of Africa’s food—but where out­put often lags far below global av­er­ages.

Most African coun­tries are strug­gling to fol­low the lead of Asian coun­tries in using ag­ri­cul­ture to spark wide­spread eco­nomic growth be­cause they have yet to mar­shal strong polit­ical sup­port for ag­ri­cul­ture—and then pair it with com­pel­ling vis­ions, strategies and re­lated im­ple­ment­a­tion ca­pa­city for trans­form­ing their poorly per­form­ing farms, ac­cord­ing to a major new study re­leased today by the Al­li­ance for Green Re­volu­tion in Africa (AGRA).

“Our ex­per­i­ence and les­sons have shown that im­pact can be achieved faster by sup­port­ing coun­tries to de­liver on their own trans­form­a­tion; driv­ing scale through a well-planned and co­ordin­ated ap­proach to re­sources in the pub­lic do­main to build sys­tems and in­sti­tu­tions,” said AGRA Pres­id­ent Dr. Agnes Kalibata, com­ment­ing on the 2018 African Ag­ri­cul­ture Status Re­port (AASR).

“Gov­ern­ments are def­in­itely cent­ral to driv­ing an in­clus­ive ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion agenda. This body of work re­cog­nizes their role and aims to high­light the value of strength­en­ing coun­try plan­ning, co­ordin­a­tion and im­ple­ment­a­tion ca­pa­city while sup­port­ing the de­vel­op­ment of an ef­fect­ive private sec­tor and en­abling reg­u­lat­ory en­vir­on­ment.”

The as­sess­ment was re­leased on the open­ing day of this week’s African Green Re­volu­tion Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, a meet­ing that is at­tract­ing in­flu­en­tial lead­ers from across the con­tin­ent and around the world who are eager to see farm­ing and food pro­duc­tion take cen­ter stage in African eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts. The event’s theme—Lead, Meas­ure, Grow—is spot­light­ing the im­port­ance of polit­ical lead­er­ship and ac­count­ab­il­ity in de­liv­er­ing on the eco­nomic prom­ise of ag­ri­cul­ture.

The 2018 AASR notes that if one looks at coun­tries like China or South Korea or, closer to home, at Ethiopia, Rwanda or Mo­rocco, it’s clear that in­tensi­fy­ing com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion on small, fam­ily farms packs a power­ful eco­nomic punch. For ex­ample, China’s ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion is cred­ited with kick-start­ing a rapid de­cline in rural poverty, from 53 per­cent in 1981 to 8 per­cent in 2001. The same is true for Vi­et­nam, where rural poverty de­clined from 56 per­cent in 1986 to per­cent in 2018. In Ethiopia, 25 years of steady growth in the farm sec­tor has cut rural poverty rates in half and in Rwanda, over the same period, poverty has re­duced by 25 per­cent.

The AASR finds that a con­sist­ent fea­ture in each of these suc­cess stor­ies is rock solid polit­ical sup­port—led by heads of state, senior gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, private sec­tor lead­ers and farmer or­gan­iz­a­tions—for the “in­sti­tu­tions, in­vest­ments and policies” that can un­leash the eco­nomic po­ten­tial of small­holder ag­ri­cul­ture and local ag­ribusi­nesses.

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: New Re­port: Meals Re­place Min­er­als to Re­start African Eco­nomic Growth

Equally im­port­ant: the re­port finds polit­ical cap­ital is typ­ic­ally in­ves­ted in a de­tailed plan of ac­tion that is car­ried out by a strong cadre of skilled pro­fes­sion­als. And not just from the ag­ri­cul­ture sec­tor. The re­port notes that suc­cess­ful ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion is a na­tional agenda that in­volves sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tions from other sec­tors, in­clud­ing fin­ance, trans­port­a­tion, en­vir­on­ment, en­ergy and water. To­gether, they im­ple­ment policies that cre­ate fer­tile ground for cul­tiv­at­ing a new crop of local ag­ri­cul­ture busi­nesses.

But the AASR as­sess­ment re­veals that this vital con­stel­la­tion of polit­ical en­ergy, tar­geted policy re­forms, gov­ern­ment ca­pa­city and an en­abling en­vir­on­ment for ag­ribusi­ness is pre­cisely what is miss­ing from the ag­ri­cul­ture sec­tor of many African coun­tries. It ex­amined data from other in­de­pend­ent re­search—such as those that com­pare gov­ern­ment tax­a­tion of farm in­puts to sup­port the sec­tor or that mon­itor pub­lic spend­ing on ag­ri­cul­ture in­clud­ing re­search and ex­ten­sion ser­vices—and noted that stronger policies and reg­u­lat­ory re­forms are cent­ral in at­tract­ing private sec­tor in­vest­ments. They all poin­ted to the same con­clu­sion: that the gov­ern­ment and state is key to lead­ing and driv­ing ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion. Oth­er­wise, the re­port notes, the pace of de­vel­op­ment will never grow eco­nom­ies the same way it did in Asia.

“Ex­ist­ing data sug­gest that the polit­ical will to sup­port ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion is likely lower in Africa than in other re­gions of the de­vel­op­ing world,” the re­port states, adding that it “has not sub­stan­tially in­creased dur­ing the past dec­ade.”

At the bot­tom of this press re­lease is a list of seven key re­com­mend­a­tions to African gov­ern­ments that could help un­leash the po­ten­tial of African farm­ers and ag­ribusi­nesses.

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: Re­port: Kenya and Ni­geria tops in the Agri-Tech Star­tup mar­kets in Africa

The Tide May Be Turn­ing: Signs of Com­mit­ment to Pro­gress

The re­port finds key ex­cep­tions that can help blaze a path for other African coun­tries to fol­low. In ad­di­tion to Ethiopia, Rwanda is cited for mar­shalling polit­ical sup­port for ag­ri­cul­ture and then in­teg­rat­ing de­tailed ac­tion plans within its broader eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment strategies. Pro­gress in the sec­tor is cred­ited with lift­ing over one mil­lion Rwandans out of ex­treme poverty in a re­l­at­ively short period.

Eco­nomic out­put in Ghana’s ag­ri­cul­ture sec­tor—driven in part by the gov­ern­ment’s new “Plant­ing for Food and Jobs” pro­gram—grew 8.4 per­cent in 2017 (after post­ing only 3 per­cent growth in 2016). Sim­il­arly, AGRA ex­perts point to coun­tries such as Kenya, Burk­ina Faso, Mali, and Zam­bia as places where polit­ical mo­mentum and gov­ern­ment cap­ab­il­it­ies are grow­ing.

Oth­ers also see reason for op­tim­ism in the in­creas­ing will­ing­ness of African gov­ern­ments to openly dis­cuss where they are ad­van­cing in ag­ri­cul­ture and where they are strug­gling. For ex­ample, 47 coun­tries have signed on to the African Union’s Com­pre­hens­ive Africa Ag­ri­cul­ture De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram (CAADP). And they re­cently sub­mit­ted de­tailed re­ports out­lining their pro­gress to date in achiev­ing a range of com­mit­ments made through the AU’s Maputo and Malabo ac­cords. The re­port, dubbed the Bi­en­nial Re­view of the Malabo De­clar­a­tion, re-en­forced the link between gov­ern­ment ac­tion on ag­ri­cul­ture and re­duc­tions in poverty, with Rwanda post­ing the highest “ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion” score.

RE­LATED ART­ICLE: Weather based in­sur­ance key to food suf­fi­ciency, re­port

With Farm­ers Poised for Pro­gress, Re­port Re­veals a Way For­ward

An­other bright point in the re­port is the grow­ing num­ber of small­holder farm­ers in sub-Saha­ran Africa who have moved bey­ond sub­sist­ence farm­ing to be­come com­mer­cial grow­ers. The re­port finds that 85 per­cent of Africa’s food is cur­rently pro­duced by small­holder farm­ing house­holds that gen­er­ate a big enough sur­plus to sell 30 per­cent or more of their har­vests for in­come.

“That means gov­ern­ments that are ready to step up their com­mit­ment to ag­ri­cul­ture trans­form­a­tion likely have a core group of small­holder farm­ers who have the means and mo­tiv­a­tion to adopt new crop vari­et­ies and bet­ter farm­ing prac­tices,” said Boaz Keiz­ire, AGRA’s Head of Policy and Ad­vocacy. “And when their wealth in­creases, so does the wealth of their neigh­bors as these farm­ers tend to spend most of what they earn in their local com­munit­ies.”

The re­port notes that it is “the in­creased spend­ing of small com­mer­cial farm­ers” in rural com­munit­ies that ac­counts for the power­ful eco­nomic dom­ino ef­fect nu­mer­ous stud­ies have linked to ag­ri­cul­ture growth in low-in­come coun­tries. The World Bank con­cludes that growth in the ag­ri­cul­ture sec­tor is at least twice as ef­fect­ive at re­du­cing poverty as growth in any other sec­tor.

“We hope people will be com­ing to this year’s AGRF ready to build the co­ali­tions that can take ad­vant­age of the unique power of ag­ri­cul­ture as the surest path to grow­ing eco­nom­ies and jobs,” said Dr. Kalibata.

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