Political will helping shift Africa’s farming to large scale ventures, says new report

Tuesday September 25 2018

Farmers in Rwanda’s Musanze District. Rwanda is among African models that have marshalled political support for agriculture. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Rwanda, Ethiopia and Ghana are emerging as African models for pairing political will with government action to transform smallholder farms into businesses.

The Africa Agriculture Status Report 2018 shows that despite close to 70 per cent of the continent’s population being involved in agriculture as smallholder farmers working on parcels of land that are, on average, less than two hectares, there has been minimal political will to support them.

“There is hardly any disagreement about the crucial role of political will for driving agricultural transformation. In fact, slow progress has often been attributed to a lack of political will,” notes the report.

It adds that to achieve a successful agricultural transformation, it is not only essential for governments to address market failures and the governance challenges but also sustain political will over time.

The failure by governments to spearhead the sector’s growth continues to expose the continent to threats of food insecurity, a situation that is bound to get severe due to climate change and unpredictable weather patterns.

This is happening at a time when demand for food continues to grow strongly, and is projected to more than double by 2050.


Processed foods

Besides, national diets are shifting away from food staples like grains to horticultural and livestock products, and processed and pre-cooked foods, all of which add value within the agrifood system.

This has resulted in imports of raw and processed foods increasing to about $35 billion per year, a figure estimated to rise to about $110 billion by 2025.

The fact that the majority of governments lack the political will to transform the agriculture sector is evident considering that only a few countries have implemented the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which commits signatories to allocate 10 per cent of annual budgets to the sector.

Only Malawi, Ethiopia, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have implemented the programme.

On this, East African countries are performing poorly, with all allocating less than six per cent of their annual budgets to agriculture.

The situation in Africa compares badly with other regions, particularly Asia, where governments invested 15 to 20 per cent at the time of their Green Revolutions.

“Central to accelerating agricultural growth is improving the productivity of the small-scale commercial farmer above subsistence levels,” notes the report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

It adds that instead of empowering farmers and committing resources to research and development, most governments prefer to spend a considerable share of their agricultural budget on subsidies, which are often used as political tools for buying votes.

Spearheading a shift

The report extols the importance of governments spearheading a shift of agriculture from largely subsistence farming, often involving underutilisation of land and labour on the larger farms, to commercial agriculture with the dominant small-scale commercial farms producing a growing proportion of their crops for sale.

In Africa, Ethiopia is a shining star in driving the growth of the agricultural sector, having consistently exceeded the CAADP target of six per cent annual growth for the past 25 years. The government made CAADP the core of its agricultural plan.

Rwanda is also a model after marshalling political support for agriculture and then integrating detailed action plans within broader economic development strategies.

This has helped lift more than one million Rwandans out of extreme poverty within a relatively short period.

Ghana has also achieved remarkable successes in transforming its agricultural sector. But other countries on the continent have failed on most parameters on political will.

According to the report, the components that define political will range from government initiatives, development and implementation of a national plan, choice of policies and programmes, to mobilisation of stakeholders and public commitment and allocation of resources.

Others are investments and reforms to strengthen implementation capacity, application of credible sanctions, continuity of effort and learning and adaptation.

“Many African countries neglect the agriculture sector in their development planning. This is because the base of their political support is urban,” notes the report.

Tragically, governments have failed to spearhead growth of the agricultural sector despite the fact that it remains a critical player in economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation.

The report contends that when agriculture grows at the mandated rate of six per cent per year, rather than the norm without government interventions of three per cent, net farm incomes grow at nearly six per cent.

This stimulates rapid growth in employment and incomes in the rural non-farm sector.

It adds that African countries can learn from China’s agriculture transformation programme which is credited with driving down rural poverty from 53 per cent in 1981 to eight per cent in 2001.

The same is true for Vietnam, where rural poverty declined from 56 per cent in 1986 to eight per cent currently.