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The Agricultural Gold Rush for Africa

120131-janesabbi
Jane Sabbi, left, is a farmer with 12 acres of land in Kamuli, Uganda and a mother of seven children. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

At this year’s G8 Summit, which was chaired by President Obama, the G8 nations committed themselves to maintain this focus on food security and nutrition.  But they put new emphasis on the private sector.    

International investment in Africa is already increasing rapidly.  Ten percent of all the foreign direct investment in the world last year was in Africa.  A score of international companies have worked with political leaders in Africa to develop “Grow Africa,” a framework for international investment in African agriculture.  These companies have committed themselves to invest in African agriculture in ways that increase production, reduce poverty, and also reduce greenhouse gases.

Then last month, the G8 announced a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  Simultaneously, 45 international companies announced $3 billion in planned investment in Africa.  Three African governments – Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Ghana – committed themselves to new private-sector oriented reforms, and the G8 government said that they will focus some of their increased funding for agricultural development in these and other countries that become part of this New Alliance.

In effect, African governments and G8 governments are jointly committing themselves to facilitate a major expansion of private investment in African agriculture.

There’s a lot we don’t yet know about the New Alliance.  It will be led by a high-level committee of government and private-sector leaders.

But African leaders, certainly Africa’s ambassadors to the United States, have repeatedly said that what they most want from the U.S. government is help in attracting trade and investment, and this initiative is a major new step in this direction.  The planned expansion of investment will presumably also increase trade.

Civil-society groups have important roles to play as this New Alliance takes shape.  Some NGOs can help international companies connect with African farmers in ways that really do contribute to development.  NGOs will also need to monitor the expansion of international investment in Africa.  It can do a lot of good, but it’s also likely to do some harm.

The expansion of international investment in African agriculture is a bit like a gold rush.  World demand for agriculture is expanding rapidly, and sixty percent of all the undeveloped arable land in the world is in Africa.  Africans can benefit from the expansion of private-sector investment in African agriculture, but civil-society groups will need to monitor what’s going on and be active in advocacy. While I believe this effort to facilitate international private-sector investment in agriculture is an opportunity, it is also a risk, and that is why monitoring and advocacy by civil-society groups will be important.

David-beckmannDavid Beckmann is president of Bread for the World. This blog post is taken from remarks that Beckmann made at the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Civil Society Forum about the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

 

 

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