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A Roadmap to Africa's Agricultural Development

Accra, Ghana—In Africa, the way to an agriculture revolution has long been clear. The original Green Revolution in Asia, in the 1960s and ‘70s, provides the classic roadmap.

But where there’s a way doesn’t mean there is a will. In fact, the will to develop agriculture in Africa has long been missing.

“Africa must take the bull by the horns and tackle the structural reasons for underproduction,” urged Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda, the prime minister of Tanzania, at the opening of the African Green Revolution Forum here Thursday. His earthy command set a tone of impatience for Africa to finally muster the political will to realize its agriculture potential.

“In Asia, the work of scientists was important, yes, but also the work of politicians to lay the policy framework,” said Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general who is now chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the host of the forum. Africa, noted Annan, a native Ghanian, needs “fundamental changes in government priorities.”

 

Several countries are leading the way in finally elevating agriculture. They are reducing reliance on international goodwill, and exercising their own political will to feed their people. To accomplish this, they are finally allying with the private sector. Tanzania launched a Farming First initiative last year, pouring more resources into agriculture; this year, food production is doubling. Governments are also hailing agriculture in Malawi, Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Mali, and their harvests of maize, wheat, rice, and beans are growing strongly.

The forum, which Annan labeled “a call to action,” was teeming with a keen awareness that this is Africa’s time to step up. The world will need to double its agriculture production by 2050 and Africa—because it has fallen so far behind the rest of the world in the use of hybrid seeds, fertilizer and irrigation—is poised to deliver the greatest leap in harvests. Africa can leverage this global need to produce more food to radically alter its image from continent of problem to continent of solution.

“We have the land, the farmers, the know-how. The time is ripe to invest in African agriculture,” Annan said. “Africa’s farmers are poised to deliver long-term solutions.”

Tanzania’s prime minister echoed, “Africa is a sleeping giant. It’s time to awaken this giant.”

The will to politically support the way to a Green Revolution in Africa evaporated in the 1980s and 1990s—the era of “structural adjustment” when the World Bank and leading development institutions urged African governments to get out of agriculture for the sake of fiscal austerity. Across the continent, support for farmers drastically declined. Agriculture infrastructure collapsed and yields fell far below potential while money flowed into urban development projects. One of Africa’s greatest paradoxes emerged: hunger spread across a continent where two-thirds of its residents are engaged in farming.

“The giant slept,” said Prime Minister Pinda. “When Africa woke up it had learned a lesson: you must develop agriculture on your own terms.” He added: “Agriculture policies drove the Green Revolution in Asia. Until African countries shape their own policies, they won’t have a Green Revolution.”

Those policies include increasing government spending to support farmers and creating a climate for local and international investment in agriculture. And to commit to doing so for the long term.

“If people are going to invest and be encouraged to return to agriculture, they need to be assured that the policies will be continued, to make their investments sustainable. In Africa, new governments want to start afresh, sometimes not just start afresh but to undo what the previous government has done,” he said to great applause.

He continued to chide and exhort his fellow Africans: “If we believe that agriculture is important, we have to push it higher up the political agenda and keep up the pressure that politicians can’t continue to refuse to deal with it. People have power. If leaders don’t lead, they can be led. If they don’t listen today, they will listen in the year of elections.”

Roger Thurow’s blog post appears courtesy of the Global Food for Thought blog. Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent, is a senior fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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