Davos agenda should include climate, youth, private sector engagement, AGRA chief says

 Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Photo by: Benedikt von Loebell / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

DAVOS, Switzerland — Davos presents a big opportunity for government, private sector, and civil societies leaders to come together and find new ways of working together. Of course, that depends on whether the conversations and commitments and announcements that happen in the Swiss mountain town come to fruition.

Sometimes, initiatives start with significant momentum and then fizzle out, operating slowly and shy of their committed goals, pointed out Agnes Kalibata, the president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

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Kalibata, who has attended the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting several times, said she sees the value of the event, and doesn’t necessarily want to call people out, but she said she doesn’t “get a sense that people are put under pressure to track what they say and what they do.”

WEF would do well to have a better mechanism to track commitments and encourage people not to say the same thing every year and talk about progress without making significant strides towards it, Kalibata said.

She pointed to the example of the New Vision for Agriculture, launched in 2009 by World Economic Forum partners to build partnerships and bring in investment to sustainable agriculture to address food security, and improve environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. Among the partnerships eventually launched in 21 countries was Grow Africa, which was founded in 2011 by WEF, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The efforts were reported to have mobilized more than $10.5 billion in investment commitments. Less than $2.5 billion has actually been deployed, Kalibata said.

“Momentum was there but is going down. Pledges are not being realized,” she said.

Greater accountability mechanisms could help, but so could a better understanding between political leaders and business leaders on how to engage, Kalibata said. That would help improve the conversations around the three key issues of climate, youth employment, and private sector engagement that she says should be on the agriculture agenda in Davos.

Climate has to be part of the conversation about addressing agriculture challenges in Africa, she said. It is an important conversation to be had in Davos because African farmers have little to do with the creation of the climate challenges they face, but have to contend with outsized impacts, Kalibata said.

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Climate change has contributed to a shift from the number of people facing hunger decreasing globally to an increase again last year, she said. The impacts of climate change are resulting in farmers being unable to even provide enough food for themselves, let alone help alleviate other food security concerns.

That already strained environment is compounded by high rates of youth unemployment in a rapidly changing world, which is not a challenge unique to the African continent but is a problem there in particular, Kalibata said.

“It is important at a global forum to address the issue from the root causes and how to work together to prevent it and support nations where the problem is most important,” she said. 

Davos also presents an important opportunity for the development and agriculture community to engage with private sector leaders and talk about the types of investment opportunities they are looking for, and what is available, Kalibata said.

Africa’s food market may be worth more than $1 trillion a year by 2030, according to the latest Africa Agriculture Status Report released by AGRA last year. There is a market opportunity for those willing to invest in Africa, the continent continues to import significant amount of food and there is abundant cheap labor, but political leaders need to create a better environment for the private sector to be willing to invest, she said.

The main hurdles, including physical infrastructure and an an enabling policy environment where business policies are secure and predictable, can be overcome if there are commitments on both sides.

“We see the opportunity and the challenges and try to help governments understand the real opportunity and partner with the private sector the right way to reduce hurdles,” Kalibata said.

To that end, AGRA will be focusing on helping to strengthen country capacity to work with the private sector, find investment opportunities and improve leadership around key agriculture issues.

The continent needs to build the right institutions and systems to deliver for farmers, from fertilizer and input access, to building market access, she said. AGRA will be working to help build better systems, support the government to provide better agriculture leaderships and strengthen partnerships with the private sector and others who want to invest in agriculture on the continent.

AGRA, which has worked in the past largely on improving technical capacity and research, will now focus more on building the systems that allow technology to scale fast.

Davos is an opportunity to help make connections and for government leaders in Africa to make the case for investing in their countries and reassure potential companies or investors that it is a stable environment and share country plans with them.

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  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.