Transforming agriculture can bring industrialisation in Africa

10Feb 2020
Editor
The Guardian
Transforming agriculture can bring industrialisation in Africa

​​​​​​​NO  region of the world has ever moved to industrialised economy status without a transformation of the agricultural sector. Agriculture, which contributes 16.2 per cent of the GDP of Africa, and gives some form of employment to over 60 per cent of the population,-

-holds the key to accelerated growth, diversification and job creation for African economies.

But the performance of the sector has historically been low. Cereal yields are significantly below the global average. Modern farm inputs, including improved seeds, mechanisation and irrigation, are severely limited.

In the past, agriculture was seen as the domain of the humanitarian development sector, as a way to manage poverty. It was not seen as a business sector for wealth creation. Yet Africa has huge potential in agriculture - and with it huge investment potential. Some 65 per cent of all the uncultivated arable land left in the world lies in Africa. When Africa manages to feed itself, as - within a generation - it will, also be able to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the planet in 2050.

However, Africa is wasting vast amounts of money and resources by underrating its agriculture sector. For example, it spends $35 billion in foreign currency annually importing food, a figure that is set to rise to over $100 billion per year by 2030.

In so doing, Africa is choking its own economic future. It is importing the food that it should be growing itself. It is exporting, often to developed countries, the jobs it needs to keep and nurture. It also has to pay inflated prices resulting from global commodity supply fluctuations.

The food and agribusiness sector is projected to grow from $330 billion today to $1 trillion by 2030, and remember that there will also be 2 billion people looking for food and clothing. African enterprises and investors need to convert this opportunity and unlock this potential for Africa and Africans.

Africa must start by treating agriculture as a business. It must learn fast from experiences elsewhere, for example in south east Asia, where agriculture has been the foundation for fast-paced economic growth, built on a strong food processing and agro-industrial manufacturing base.

This is the transformation formula: agriculture allied with industry, manufacturing and processing capability equals strong and sustainable economic development, which creates wealth throughout the economy.

Africa must not miss opportunities for such linkages whenever and wherever they occur. We must reduce food system losses all along the food chain, from the farm, storage, transport, processing and retail marketing.

To drive agro-industrialization, we must be able to finance the sector. Doing so will help unlock the potential of agriculture as a business on the continent. Under its Feed Africa strategy, the African Development Bank will invest $24 billion in agriculture and agribusiness over the next ten years. This is a 400% increase in financing, from the current levels of $600 million per year.

A key component will be providing $700 million to a flagship program known as "Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation" for the scaling up of agricultural technologies to reach millions of farmers in Africa in the next ten years