By Omoh Gabriel
Agriculture and agri-business have been identified as vehicle that offers the biggest transformational potential for Africa, with an even greater positive impact on ordinary people’s lives than the mobile phone boom.
At an investor forum organised by Africa investor recently, the World Bank Vice President for Africa Ms Obiageli Ezekwesili said “If you ask me what the next ‘big thing’ in Africa will be, I’d say without hesitation agriculture and agri-business,” The World Bank is bullish on Africa,” Ms Ezekwesili told participants at the summit, which took place alongside the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Africa is “on the cusp of an economic transformation”, summit participants noted, suggesting that the continent is probably at the same point where India and China were 20 and 30 years ago respectively, just before their own economic take-off.
“We can now boldly say with confidence that Africa has awakened, Ms Ezekwesili said. “Her time has not only come but that continent is actually the future.” Mobile phones which today serve 450 million Africans (i.e. more than the US, Canada and Mexico combined have proven the most liberating asset for the poor, who use it not only for communication but also as a social, economic, banking and even political tool.
Its impact however, could prove to be minor, compared to the massive potential inherent in the agriculture sector. Agriculture currently accounts for about 40 per cent of the region’s GDP and is a source of jobs and livelihoods for 70 per cent of Africans. With only one-fourth of its arable land currently in use, contributing a mere 10 per cent to global food production, it is clear that Africa’s enormous potential essentially lies fallow.
The most dividends in agriculture and the agribusiness sector—as with mobile phones—will accrue for the “early bird” investors, Ezekwesili said.
A holistic approach is needed if the modernization of Africa’s agriculture sector is to raise productivity, ensure food security, expand exports, raise incomes and profoundly improves living conditions in rural Africa, she noted.
According to Ezekwesili, smallholder farmers must gain access, not only to more productive seeds and other farm inputs, but also to finance, irrigation, research and technology. Equally important are land reforms, the building and maintenance of adequate infrastructure (farm_to_market roads, for example), and the implementation of effective post_harvest marketing strategies.
Rosa Whitaker, one of the original architects of AGOA, outlined a series of proposed US tax incentives to award investors who invest in Africa or retailers who source products from Africa. And Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, made a very compelling case for a “Super AGOA” that would grant Africa preferential market access across the entire OECD. Right on!
Source: Vanguard Newspapers (Nigeria) Image: agricultureinformation.com