Africa / Agriculture

African agri-boom could be ‘bigger than mobile phones’–World Bank VP for Africa

Farming in the highlands of Ethiopia

Farming in the highlands of Ethiopia (Credit: ILRI/Habtamu).

‘Agriculture and agri-business offer the biggest transformational potential for Africa, with an even greater positive impact on ordinary people’s lives than the mobile phone boom.

‘“If you ask me what the next ‘big thing’ in Africa will be, I’d say without hesitation agriculture and agri-business,” the World Bank Vice President for Africa, Ms. Obiageli K. Ezekwesili, told investors at the Africa Investment Climate Summit in Washington, DC, Friday. . . .

‘“The World Bank is bullish on Africa,” Ms. Ezekwesili told participants at the Summit, which took place alongside the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

‘Africa is “on the cusp of an economic transformation”, Summit participants noted, suggesting that the continent is probably at the same point where India and China were 20 and 30 years ago respectively, just before their own economic takeoff. . . .

‘Mobile phones—which today serve 450 million Africans (i.e. more than the U.S., Canada and Mexico combined)—have proven the most liberating asset for the poor, who use it not only for communication but also as a social, economic, banking and even political tool. Its impact, however, could prove to be minor, compared to the massive potential inherent in the agriculture sector.

‘Agriculture currently accounts for about 40 percent of the region’s GDP and is a source of jobs and livelihoods for 70 percent of Africans. With only one-fourth of its arable land currently in use, contributing a mere 10 percent to global food production, it is clear that Africa’s enormous potential essentially lies fallow. . . .

‘According to Ezekwesili, smallholder farmers must gain access not only to more productive seeds and other farm inputs, but also to finance, irrigation, research and technology. Equally important are land reforms, the building and maintenance of adequate infrastructure (farm-to-market roads, for example), and the implementation of effective post-harvest marketing strategies.’

This World Bank web article, and particularly the last paragraph, generated interesting discussion on Facebook. Here, for example, is Elizabeth Ayuyo Ouma’s Facebook comment on the article:

‘Actually, it is clearly time to rethink the entire business model that currently underpins smallholder farming across the continent. I think there is need to develop a model that transforms small holder faming into a venture worth capitalizing in a structured way (by aggregation for e.g)… with the financiers internalizing the risk of the venture rather than passing that on to the small holder… in addition rather than post harvest markets, we should move more towards what a friend calls, ‘harvest with price tag’… so that rather than produce and seek market…. produce for existing market for a known price… establish a value chain the eliminates losses occasioned by extreme price fluctuations.’

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