Africa is organised and ready for business in agriculture. But Africa must call the shots in any deal done with European partners. This was the underlying message from Dr Lindiwe Sibanda , one of three African members who sat on the 10-strong Montpellier Panel, an international group established to define a way forward for partnerships in agricultural development between Europe and Africa. The Montpellier Panel Report, on strengthening partnerships between Europe and Africa, was released on October 26, 2010.

In a packed to capacity parliamentary committee room in the UK’s House of Commons. a predominantly European audience listened to views from Sir Gordon Conway, professor of international development at Imperial College London a Montpellier panel member, Lord Cameron Dillington co-chair of Agriculture and Food for Development, Michael Anderson, director-general for the UK Department for International Development and Sibanda, chief executive of Fanrpan, a food and agriculture policy network.

But it was the voice of the softly spoken, yet eloquent, African that resonated loudest. Using international statistics and describing what Africa has achieved so far, she outlined clearly why agricultural development is so absolutely central to Africa’s future. For one agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy. Around 80% of its GDP comes from farming with smallholders, who will drive Africa’s green revolution, producing 90% of the continent’s food. With rising prices resulting in many people spending more than 80% of income on food and 260m people starving in sub-Saharan Africa, there are compelling reasons for change. And with recent estimates that Africa can increase its agricultural output from 280bn to 800bn by 2030 the world is now watching and perceptions are changing. The Chinese and Indians are now firmly in the race for Africa’s resources and Europe, realising that it could be left behind, is defining the possible roles it could play. Lord Dillington called it a “virtuous circle”; essentially the message is sort out African food and agriculture and there will be plenty of opportunities to sell products and services.

But this cannot happen overnight, nor in a vacuum, and it is going to happen on African terms. Indeed governments have been hard at work developing frameworks and policies while carefully assessing how best to use international partners. Back in 2003, 53 heads of state African countries met in Maputo to agree a framework for agricultural investment. In what became known as the Maputo Declaration countries agreed in principle to pledge at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture with the hope of realising 6% a year growth in the sector. This did not happen until recently but in 2007 Rwanda was the first to sign on the dotted line. At the time the countries commitment to agriculture was 3.5%, today that is 7%. Uganda too has more than doubled its agriculture budget from 4% to 10%. In the last two years 22 African countries have signed on to the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme which commits signatories to investing 10 percent of national budgets toward improved food production.

As one of the early movers, Rwanda now has $850m investment plan for agriculture with four main components; 775 of budget will be allocated to intensfying production sustainably, 15% dedicated to agribusiness, 5% will focus on development of producers and 3% on institutional development. This, says Sibanda, is exciting because for the first time African governments are really looking at policies that will put agriculture at the forefront of African economies.

There are also two regional bodies. Ecowas in West Africa and Comesa, a grouping of 19 African states. These bodies are addressing land productivity, infrastructure especially along corridors used for mining, improving capacity along the entire value change from production to distribution, use of technology and policy. “I think you will agree that Africa is organised and ready for business,” Sibanda told the audience.

During the lunch break, Sibanda told me that getting the message across for the need to meet in the middle ground, given colonial history, is not always easy but very important when it comes to sensitive issues like land. One thing, however, seems certain. Africa has moved from status of ‘basket case’ to world’s richest ‘bread basket’.

October 26, 2010

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