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Monday, July 7, 2014

To get agriculture working, empower women and youth

At the African Union Assembly in Maputo in 2003, African heads of state were concerned that 30 percent of Africans were severely undernourished and that the continent was the largest recipient of food aid. And they pledged to act.

In what is now known as the Maputo declaration, African heads of state agreed to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to support sound policies for agricultural and rural development.

10 years after the audacious declaration in Maputo, one out of every four Africans still lacks adequate food for a healthy and active life and recent surges in food prices and frequent drought are pushing more people in hunger. In 2012, Africa received 63 percent of global food deliveries, compared to 22 percent for Asia and 4 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The average fertilizer application rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at 8 kilograms per hectare of cultivated land, compared to 78 kilograms in Latin America, 96 kilograms in East and Southeast Asia and 101 kilograms in South Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, the average grain yield in Africa was about 1-1.5 metric tons per hectare, compared to the global average of 3.2 metric tons per hectare. It is not surprising that while it accounts for 60 percent of the world’s arable land, Africa’s agriculture only generates 10 percent of global agricultural output.

Only seven countries have consistently met the Maputo mandate – Ethiopia, Niger, Mali, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Guinea. The average agricultural budget allocation for Africa is about 5 percent. Such low level of spending fails to meet the needs of the continent’s overwhelmingly small farms. The typical African farmer is a woman with no rights to land, no fertilizer, no improved seeds, no access to reliable water, and no access to veterinary services for her animals.

At the just concluded 23rd Assembly of African heads of state, have yet again, recognized that a significant proportion of Africans remains vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition and called for an absolute transformation of agriculture. The heads of state re-committed to the pursuit of agriculture-led growth as the main strategy to achieve targets on food and nutrition security and shared growth and prosperity. African leaders pledged to uphold the commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of public expenditure to agriculture, and to enhance appropriate policy and institutional conditions to facilitate private investment in agriculture, agribusiness and agro-industries.

In 2024, African another crop of African leaders will be back in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to reaffirm and re-commit to transforming Africa’s agriculture. Similarly, the aims of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development (CAADP) remain diffuse and lofty, and it is highly likely that the next decade will be lost. CAADP must move away from an uncritical promotion of the Asian Green Revolution model, and focus on smallholder-led, pro women and youth agricultural investments. We are tied of innocuous declarations and inappropriate models.

Over 70 percent of Africa’s population is engaged in agriculture and their labor yet hard work accounts for less than 10 percent of national GDP. This is unconscionable. Inclusive economic growth and economic transformation will not happen until Africa’s marginalized majorities; women and youth are included and integrated into the formal economy through agriculture.  

Agricultural growth influences growth in other sectors in three ways: production linkages back to supply sectors and forward to agro-processing; consumption linkages due to increased demand; and wage-good effects, whereby decreased food prices lower the real product wage, stimulating investment and profitability in other sectors.

The multiplier effect of agricultural spending ranges from 1.3 to 1.5 in Africa. Studies have shown that agriculture is 3.2 times better at reducing $1-day headcount poverty than non-agricultural sectors. This large multiplier effect is driven by the much larger participation of poor households in growth from agriculture.

Africa’s women and youth are not looking for handouts. Neither are they ready to provide cheap unskilled labor to large agri-business multinationals. They need policies and institutions that support smallholder farm households to take advantage of the rise of the super market and Africa’s expanding urban consumer market. What they need is secure land tenure, appropriate technology, inputs, information, and access to finance services.

Moreover, Africa’s youth and women are yearning to create innovative solutions to support agriculture and agribusiness with information, technology, soil testing, input supply, processing, packaging, logistics, marketing, finance and insurance. 

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