By Michele McNabb
Michele McNabb is President of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa , a non-partisan, non-profit membership organization made up of U.S. and African leaders, technical experts, and practitioners who are committed to improving the level and effectiveness of public and private investments in sustainable, Africa-led, agriculture-based economic growth in Africa. The Partnership is partnering with The Council on its upcoming Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.
The food security focus at the Camp David G8 Summit on May 18-19 comes at a fortuitous time. The African continent has reached a turning point, and it is imperative that donor mindsets and approaches evolve to match the times. While pockets of food insecurity and famine continue to plague some regions, particularly in the Western Sahel and the Horn, Africa is a far cry from the wasteland of hunger and despair that is often reflected in the media. In fact, it is a continent of optimism, of farmers and entrepreneurs, and of immeasurable potential.
As Sir Gordon Conway and Derek Yach shared in their recent posts on this Blog, African agriculture is now in the spotlight and poised for unprecedented growth. The sector has long been the mainstay of most African rural economies, employing up to 70% of local population and yielding 30-50% of national GDPs. In recent years, the sector has begun to receive the attention it deserves from African leaders as well as donors, with historical commitments made at the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila throwing significant power behind familiar rhetoric. Under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), African governments are leveraging greater portions of their national budgets toward agriculture. Several African countries are closing in on Millennium Development Goal 1, suggesting these funds have been well used. Thanks to growing public sector attention and greater recognition of investment opportunities on the continent, private investors are increasingly interested in African businesses. Now is the time to bring these public and private sector forces together for the common good.
It is critical that leaders at both the Chicago Council’s Symposium and the 2012 G8 Summit take a long-term look forward: Africa is urbanizing and increasingly wealthy; there is rising demand for more nutritious and processed foods, including animal-sourced foods; and there is a growing need for scalable agricultural solutions that benefit African smallholders and private investors alike. It is estimated that by 2030 more than half of Africa’s population will live in cities and towns, and urban markets will quadruple in size. Globally, we will soon have nine billion mouths to feed and will continue to face stubbornly high rates of malnutrition even in regions with rapid economic growth. This presents a tremendous challenge and a great opportunity for African producers and food processors. The solution lies in connecting these millions of smallholders with rapidly growing local, regional, and global markets, and empowering them to produce the types, quantity, and quality of food to meet rising local and global demand.
In this context, there is ample room for responsible private sector investment in African agriculture—investment that aims for a "triple bottom line”, creating positive financial, social, and environmental returns. Public-private partnerships can help focus resources toward a common goal while encouraging accountable and responsible investment. Innovative projects like the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) are promoting inclusive economic growth by sustainably developing agricultural value chains in focused areas. By improving local farmers’ access to inputs and technical training, introducing modern storage and processing facilities, and connecting smallholders with large agribusinesses, initiatives like SAGCOT are creating employment, boosting local incomes, overcoming food deficits and malnutrition, and building resilient, sustainable food systems.
Looking toward the future of African agriculture, coupling public sector commitments with responsible private investment is clearly a large piece of the puzzle. However, the burden for action lies not only with private sector players, but also with G8 and African government leaders. Donors must acknowledge and leverage comparative advantages, foster public-private partnerships, and facilitate agricultural research, training, and technology transfer. African leaders must create an enabling environment that facilitates greater private sector involvement, actively support youth engagement in an evolving agricultural sector, and—alongside private sector partners—identify and support sustainable solutions.
At a time of shrinking public sector budgets and rapidly growing markets, the time is right to forge long-lasting, responsible partnerships for investing in African agriculture. Join us in calling U.S. and African leaders at the G8 Summit, as well as their private sector counterparts, to look toward changing realities in African agriculture and support agricultural development solutions that benefit local and international investors and, most importantly, smallholder farmers and consumers.
On June 11-12, 2012, the Partnership—in conjunction with the John A. Kufuor Foundation and the Joaquim Chissano Foundation— will host its annual U.S.-Africa Forum in Washington, DC. This year’s Forum will focus on strengthening the linkages and skills needed to transform Africa’s agriculture into profitable and inclusive businesses, meeting local, regional, and global food needs while providing sustainable incomes and employment.