ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Though Africa is experiencing a storm of difficulties — with South Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia experiencing famine or near-famine conditions, lower commodity revenues, decelerated economic growth overall, and ongoing conflicts — the continent remains a land of potential and opportunity.
Under the theme “Transforming Agriculture for Wealth Creation in Africa,” experts and delegates converge this week in western India for the 52nd Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank Group in Ahmedabad. The bank will focus on how to feed Africa’s fast-growing population with its own production and reduce the $35 billion spent on food imports each year.
Estimates show that 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated, arable land lies in Africa “so what we do today with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world,” African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina told Devex at the World Bank Spring Meetings this April.
Adesina has prioritized agricultural transformation in his Feed Africa plan — the second pillar of his High 5 agenda, a blueprint to advance the bank’s 10-year strategy. Feed Africa aims to eliminate malnutrition and hunger on the continent, move Africa to the top of agricultural value chains, change perspectives on doing business in agriculture in the region, and improve the livelihoods for the 7 out of 10 Africans who work in this sector.
“Agriculture is supposed to produce billionaires,” Adesina told Devex. “It’s like you’re passing gold by because you think it’s dirt because it looks like dirt.”
Here are the top issues Devex will be watching this week at the AfDB Annual Meeting.
The role of youth in transforming agriculture
One key to the success of the Feed Africa strategy is increased youth involvement in the sector. The bank has targeted young graduates, ages 18 to 35, with their ENABLE Youth initiative, hoping to bring them into agribusiness for their careers.
Read more: A look back at Devex's coverage from WEF Africa
“It’s not easy to tell someone to go into agriculture because they will think agriculture takes time to generate revenue, and they see agriculture in the way of their fathers and forefathers and say no, this is not what I want to be in the future,” said Dr. Chiji Ojukwu, director of the agriculture and agro-industry department.
To educate young people about the changes and opportunities in the sector, AfDB works with governments to organize youth-focused forums and prepare rural visits. More than 35 countries have applied for program rollout, with schemes already approved in Nigeria, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Sudan. Nine more countries are targeted for this year.
“ENABLE Youth is to show them agriculture is not done the way it was done before and agriculture is not just famine; agriculture is about business, about making money,” Ojukwu said. “We are also trying to preach to them that … you don’t need to stick to farming alone because production is just an aspect of the value chain. You also have the production, harvesting, processing, marketing, logistics, even inputs — selling seeds, fertilizers and herbicides [along with] buying, selling, processing and providing extension services for money.”
Young people, he said, will also be responsible for adopting the technological advances needed to leapfrog agriculture production and processing.
Financing Africa’s agriculture needs
Investment in African agriculture remains insufficient considering what is needed in areas such as rural transformation, infrastructure and technology. To unlock more private sector funding, Africa must change government policies to encourage greater agriculture investment.
AfDB is working to derisk the commodity value chain, so that the private sector will see it as an attractive area to invest, Ojukwu told Devex. “Commercial banks, for example, only contribute 5 percent of their portfolio to agriculture, even though agriculture contributes over 20 percent of GDP in most countries because they see it as an area that might not pay them back,” he said.
The bank will explore innovative financing mechanisms, including insurance programs for farmers and a risk-sharing facility that will serve as a derisking tool for commercial banks to encourage agricultural lending.
For the first time, AfDB will be hosting the annual meetings in India, leaving many wondering why.
Ties between Africa and Asia have become increasingly important as the continent seeks to position itself as a more powerful player in the global marketplace. Many Asian investments in Africa are backed by China, with Japanese and Indian partners also showing increased interest in African investment in recent years.
Acknowledging that most investments flow in one direction — from Asia to Africa — the AfDB will lead several sessions on Asia-Africa partnerships, with a nine-part series specifically focused on Africa-India cooperation aimed at rallying bilateral agreements and investments among Asian partners. Discussions promoting Indian trade and investments, partnerships in health care, e-governance, and the green revolution are all expected this week.
The AfDB response to Africa’s famine crisis
Experts say that adverse weather patterns and climate change are here to stay, which means famine could become a recurring problem in many areas of Africa. As a result, immediate mitigation efforts must also include investments spread across the agriculture sector.
Famine and food insecurity continues to impact 20 million people across northern Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan, and in other less-reported areas including Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, often as a result of drought or conflict.
During a speech at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., last month, Adesina included an announcement of the bank’s plan to deploy $1.1 billion “to address the famine crisis and ensure that drought does not lead to famine.”
In recent weeks, experts at the AfDB have hinted at a famine-focused announcement during the meetings, which one source said will include “an immediate response to create resilience in communities facing starvation.” However, further details have not yet been released.
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