‘No reason for Africa to spend US$35bn/yr importing food’ - AfDB

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Prosper Ndlovu

 

Africa has no reason to be spending US$35 billion a year importing food and urgent measures should be taken to harness available technologies and put in place right policies to support increased domestic agricultural productivity and incomes for farmers.

This calls for governments and private sector collaboration towards capacitating farmers across the continent with new technologies to enhance their potential to transform agricultural production. African Development Bank (AfDB) Group president, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, said this at a high-level agriculture conference in the United States last week where he stressed the importance of fostering technology transfer in the agriculture sector across the continent.

To help Africa transform its agriculture, the regional bank is investing US$24 billion over the next ten years to implement its ‘Feed Africa Strategy’ and has already begun investing in the development of agriculture processing zones in a number of African countries, including Ethiopia, Togo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mozambique, with a plan to reach 15 countries in a few years.

“There is no reason why Africa should be spending US$ 35 billion a year importing food. All it needs to do is to harness the available technologies with the right policies and rapidly raise agricultural productivity and incomes for farmers, and assure lower food prices for consumers,” said Adesina.

He said countries like Nigeria have demonstrated that technology plus strong government backing can yield positive results after the country managed to transform its agriculture sector in a rice production revolution in three years. Adesina is convinced technologies to achieve Africa’s green revolution exist, but are mostly just sitting on the shelves. The challenge, he contends, is a lack of supportive policies to ensure available technologies are scaled up to reach millions of farmers.

In the case of Nigeria, Adesina said: “All it took was sheer political will, supported by science, technology and pragmatic policies...Just like in the case of rice, the same can be said of a myriad of technologies, including high-yielding water efficient maize, high-yielding cassava varieties, animal and fisheries technologies.”

Adesina, who delivered a keynote speech at the 2018 Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) Annual Meeting held in Washington, DC, said the AfDB was geared to lead the agricultural transformation process in Africa with the help of partners such as the World Bank, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The partnership efforts seek to mobilize US$ 1 billion to scale up agricultural technologies across Africa under a new initiative called Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation. The move is part of bold steps to bring down some of the barriers preventing farmers from accessing latest seed varieties and technologies to improve their productivity. 

“With the rapid pace of growth of the use of drones, automated tractors, artificial intelligence, robotics and block chains, agriculture as we know it today will change,” added Adesina.

“It is more likely that the future farmers will be sitting in their homes with computer applications using drone to determine the size of their farms, monitor and guide the applications of farm inputs, and with driverless combine harvesters bringing in the harvest.”

The AfDB president used the opportunity to advocate for African universities to adapt their curriculum to enable technology-driven farmers and to focus on agribusiness entrepreneurship for young people, emphasizing the need to rise beyond theories to application. Through its innovative Enable Youth initiative, the regional bank has in the past two years committed close to US$300 million to develop the next generation of agribusiness and commercial farmers for Africa.

The 2018 conference was attended by over 1,600 agricultural and applied economists from around the world.  Adesina, who won the 2017 World Food Prize, is passionate advocate for the creation of staple crops processing zones across Africa (SCPZs). He has a vision of vast areas within rural areas set aside and managed for agribusiness and food manufacturing industries and other agro-allied industries. For him this dream is possible if enabled by right policies and infrastructure.

“I am convinced that just like industrial parks helped China, so will the SCPZs help to create new economic zones in rural areas that will help lift hundreds of millions out of poverty through the transformation of agriculture - the main source of their livelihoods- from a way of life into a viable profitable business that will unleash new sources of wealth,” he said.

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