Most African countries are struggling to follow the lead of Asian countries in using agriculture to spark widespread economic growth.
This is due to the fact that most of these countries are yet to marshal strong political support for agriculture and then pair it with compelling visions, strategies and related implementation capacity for transforming their poorly performing farms, says a study by the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
The report, “Catalyzing State Capacity to Drive Agriculture Transformation,” is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the role of state capacity and political will in achieving that “transformation,” a catch-all term for work required to boost production and incomes on the millions of small, family farms that grow most of Africa’s food—but where output often lags far below global averages.
“Our experience and lessons have shown that impact can be achieved faster by supporting countries to deliver on their own transformation; driving scale through a well-planned and coordinated approach to resources in the public domain to build systems and institutions,” said AGRA President Dr. Agnes Kalibata, commenting on the 2018 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR).
“Governments are definitely central to driving an inclusive agriculture transformation agenda. This body of work recognizes their role and aims to highlight the value of strengthening country planning, coordination, and implementation capacity while supporting the development of an effective private sector and enabling regulatory environment.”
The 2018 AASR notes that if one looks at countries like China or South Korea or, closer to home, at Ethiopia, Rwanda or Morocco, it’s clear that intensifying commercial production on small, family farms packs a powerful economic punch.
The AASR finds that a consistent feature in each of these success stories is rock solid political support—led by heads of state, senior government ministers, private sector leaders, and farmer organizations—for the “institutions, investments and policies” that can unleash the economic potential of smallholder agriculture and local agribusinesses.
The report further noted the growing number of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who have moved beyond subsistence farming to become commercial growers. It found that 85 percent of Africa’s food is currently produced by smallholder farming households that generate a big enough surplus to sell 30 percent or more of their harvests for income.
“That means governments that are ready to step up their commitment to agriculture transformation likely have a core group of smallholder farmers who have the means and motivation to adopt new crop varieties and better farming practices,” said Boaz Keizire, AGRA’s Head of Policy and Advocacy. “And when their wealth increases, so do the wealth of their neighbors as these farmers tend to spend most of what they earn in their local communities.”
The report continues to state that “the increased spending of small commercial farmers” in rural communities that accounts for the powerful economic domino effect numerous studies have linked to agriculture growth in low-income countries an according to the WorldBank, growth in the agriculture sector is at least twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in any other sector.
“We hope people will be coming to this year’s AGRF ready to build the coalitions that can take advantage of the unique power of agriculture as the surest path to growing economies and jobs,” said Dr. Kalibata.