Distinguished participants, I am glad to be part of this outstanding panel and pleased to join you in this session on – “Agriculture in Africa: The path to a green revolution”. I have always been passionate about the plight of the rural woman in Africa and all our projects in Better Life for the African Rural Woman (BLPARW) are centered on addressing the income and other human development problems of rural women in Africa. In fact, our areas of work is mobilization in agriculture, food processing, health, arts and crafts, education, recreation and women-related welfare concerns.
To achieve sustainable development, there are key agents required for economic, social, transformational, political and environmental changes. These agents, according to UN Women, are rural women. Therefore empowering them is key not only to the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also to the overall productivity of the economy, given women’s large presence in the agricultural workforce worldwide. This is what motivates and drives BLPARW.
There are negative perceptions in Africa, especially in youth, about agriculture. In the minds of many African youth, a farmer is someone who goes through hard backbreaking labor in the fields, looks poor and ragged, is often beaten by harsh weather and has little or nothing to show for it.
These youth have seen their aging parents (women mostly) go through traumatic experiences of farming using basic and often times crude equipment and they would rather opt for employment (outside the agricultural sector) than subject themselves to these harsh working conditions. Their minds have been entrenched in these negative perceptions and who would blame them? What do they know? What have they been told? I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.
Despite these negative perceptions, the agricultural sector employs as much as 60% of Africa’s labor force, according to the Africa Economic Outlook Report 2013, published jointly by the African Development Programme. Yet because of low productivity, the sector accounts for only 25% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Despite such grim statistics, the sector has huge potential. The World Bank estimates that African agriculture and agribusiness could be worth $1 trillion by 2030. For that to happen, there must be improvements in public power supply and irrigation, coupled with smart business and trade policies. An agribusiness private sector working alongside government could link farmers with consumers, create many jobs and improve the economy exponentially.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, women in Africa are responsible for 70% of crop production, 50% of animal husbandry and 60% of marketing. Women undertake nearly 100% of food processing activities, in addition to child care and other responsibilities in households.
Africa is dominated majorly by family farming, which relies mainly on family labor. While the agricultural labor force is comprised mostly of women, rules governing ownership and transfer of land rights are less favorable to women than in Asia and Latin America.
Food insecurity remains an essentially rural phenomenon as it affects the rural world more than cities because the people producing food often do not make enough to feed their families due to the lack of adequate access to means of production (land, manure, tools), and rural communities are poorer and struggle to buy food.
Permanent economic access to food has become the decisive factor in food insecurity. Food insecurity is first and foremost about poverty and inequalities. Consequently, achieving agricultural development is a necessary condition for reducing food insecurity, but is not sufficient by itself.
There is a threat to Africa’s natural potential. Many farming systems are struggling to replenish soil fertility due to lack of investment capacity and secure land tenure. Won over by the idea of industrial farming, decision-makers are sometimes inclined to make it easy for overseas groups to acquire land, not always with the greatest transparency. Yet family farming is best placed to optimize labor use and to enable greater land use, while reducing the risk of breaching local rules governing resources. Moreover, it has the greatest potential for increasing broad-based growth and sustainable wealth creation.
The pan-African action framework for agricultural development policy and strategy is provided by the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) adopted in 2002. This programme – which has been a catalyst for African initiatives, such as defining national priorities, as well as for the process of Africans’ regaining control of the dialogue with technical and financial partners – aims to attain average annual growth of agricultural productivity of at least 6%, and sets a target for public investment in agriculture equal to at least 10% of national budgets. Indeed, CAADP has established itself as the expression of reclaimed ownership of agricultural policy by African States and citizens of the continent.
ECOWAS adopted a regional agricultural policy for West Africa in January 2005 (ECOWAP) and established a regional action plan for 2006-2010. The plan calls for drawing up National Agricultural Investment Programmes (NAIPs) in each country, to be adopted by all stakeholders in the agricultural sector via the signature of a pact, and a Regional Agriculture Investment Programme (RAIP).
The challenges we face are political, human, economic, environmental and the ability to harness the agricultural potential inherent in Africa.
As stated by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), to contribute more decisively to sustainable change in the African agricultural sector, the CAADP must draw on several fundamental principles and guidelines. We need to:
- Give much more emphasis to farming as a business, as a profitable venture, and raise the profile of the farming profession;
- Promote change and transformation in agriculture according to Africa’s vision, starting from within the continent. This requires the mobilization of the continent’s resources, including its men and women, as well as a particular focus on small farms, which make up the majority of Africa’s productive units and have the greatest development potential. There is also a need for increased financial resources, institutions and technical capacity for agriculture;
- Foster trans-sectoral dialogue and encourage partnerships to ensure appropriation of and alignment with the agricultural development strategy;
- Anchor economic change and transformation in a political economy approach;
- Affirm Africa’s interests in international negotiations and influence standards and rules of the game by supporting the new international balance of power;
- Encourage subsidiarity and adapt it to the political maturity of CAADP constituencies at the various levels of its implementation;
- Promote the systematic preference for sustainable agricultural systems from a socio-economic perspective (use of labour) and also from an environmental perspective (limited use of high-carbon inputs, the promotion of agroecology and agroforestry).