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Africa’s green revolution takes pivotal turn in Nairobi

For a long time, the greatest impediment to agriculture in Africa has been the lack of broad-based support and

funding. this is, however, changing. Private sector and African govern- ments committed $30 billion for agriculture across the continent at the African Green revolution Forum in Nairobi in September. this spirit of close partnership between dif- ferent stakeholders in Africa’s agri- cultural sector is precisely what Kofi Annan, former United Nation’s Secretary General, envisaged when he called for the launch of the Green revolution in Africa 12 years ago. “twelve years ago, when I was UN   Secretary-General,   I  called for a ‘uniquely African Green revolution’ to transform agriculture and the life chances of hundreds of millions of people on the continent,” said Kofi Annan in a statement issued before the commencement of the AGrF in Nairobi.

A key ingredient for a successful green revolution, Annan posited, was partnerships. “No single individual, group or government can take on this monumental challenge alone,” he observed.

Annan’s advocacy for part- nerships aimed  at  revolutioniz- ing agriculture in Africa inspired the founding of the Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa  (AGrA)

in 2006, which was founded with the help of the bill & Melinda  Gates Foundation and rockefeller Foundation.

Since its inception, AGrA has given a strong voice to the call for partnerships in Africa’s agricultur- al sector, particularly through the biennial African Green revolution Forum (AGrF). In this respect, the recent Nairobi forum is by far the most successful, securing $30 billion in commitments from private sector and government.

“this has been the most produc- tive AGrF since the call to launch the Green revolution in African was made ten years ago by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan,” said

AGrA President Agness Kalibata.


High profile attendees

Present at AGrF in Nairobi was iconic Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiywa, who is the board chair of AGrA. Masiywa, who is based in London, doubles as founder and chair of econet Wireless, a mul- tinational telecommunications giant. one of the most prominent attendees was bill Gates, philan- thropist and founder of Microsoft. He was joined by another influen- tial billionaire, David rockefeller Jr, the great grandson of American oil tycoon, John D. rockefeller, who is considered the wealthiest American to have ever lived “by virtually every source,” according to the New York


President Uhuru Kenyatta was also present at the high profile event, which in total attracted more than 1500 delegates from 40 coun- tries. Kenya was asked to host the 2016 AGrF because of President Kenyatta’s leadership in champi- oning African agriculture, and his quest to transform the sector for the benefit of Kenya’s farmers and consumers, according to a state- ment by the Presidential Strategic communications  Unit (PScU

President Kenyatta said that Kenya will spend $200 million (Sh2 trillion) on agriculture over the next half decade. the funding will help at least 150,000 young farmers and young agriculture entrepreneurs gain access to markets, finance and insurance.

Paul Kagame, President of rwanda, was also present at AGrF. “We should not only seize the moment but continue momentum for transformation of agriculture and economies of our continent. Agriculture is not just one sector of the economy amongst others – it’s the backbone of the economy,” said President Kagame.“Let’s have more action and less talk,” he added.

the confluence of political will, public-private partnerships and funding made the 2016 AGrF a pivotal moment in the push to trans- form the fortunes of African agri- culture.


Game of partnerships

there can be no progress in Africa’s

agriculture without partnerships. this is because majority of African governments are cash strapped and can rarely fulfil their commitments to the agricultural sector by solely relying on their coffers.
“only eight countries in Africa are investing 10 per cent of national budget to agriculture development. other countries are only doing three percent,” said AGrA’s President Ms. Kalibata. African countries in 2003 agreed to set aside at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture in an agreement known as the Maputo Declaration.

African countries still have a long way to go to achieve food secu- rity and ensure equal access to eco

nomic opportunity for all Africans. the challenges include rapid urban- ization; climate change that is gen- erating more stressful growing con- ditions; significant unemployment in which one in three Africans from 15 to 35 years old are jobless; and chronic malnutrition that has left 58 million children stunted.

these problems are compounded by the fact that agriculture in Africa is not growing in step with GDP, but much slower. Statistics from the World bank indicate that agriculture contribution to GDP has gone down from 22.9 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa to 17.1 per cent.

the persisting challenges of transforming the sectors are rightly alarming. In ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, the sector employs up to 70 per cent of the work force. the same trend is replicated across most of the continent. the success or failure of agriculture therefore has far-reach- ing consequences for the vast major- ity of Africans.

consequently, there is no short- age of political will to change things in agriculture. However, all political pronouncements aimed at positively reshaping the narrative risk becom- ing empty platitudes if they are not accompanied by  the funding

that will make change possible. “there  are  many  opportunities

for Africa to transform its agricultur- al agenda. the continent’s imports agricultural products worth $35 bil- lion (Sh3.5 trillion), which can be produced in the continent and it’s set to hit $110 billion (sh11 trillion) if nothing is done,” said Ms. Kalibata.

Partnerships help make funding possible. For instance, banks have for a long time avoided the agricul- tural sector and aligned their lending portfolio to faster growing sectors like real estate. this has been the case in the Kenyan banking sector.

central bank of Kenya (cbK) data indicates that a dismal 4.04 per cent of the Sh2.165 trillion that was disbursed in loans in 2015 benefited farming ventures. Meanwhile, banks’ focus on real estate has increased, explaining why former agricultural towns such as Kiambu have turned into concrete jungles. Some banks are, however, reversing this trend due to the possibilities for strategic partnerships in agriculture that plat- forms such as AGrA provide. one such bank is Kcb, Kenya’s largest lender by assets.

Kcb has ratcheted up the amount of money allocated to agri- culture. the bank announced that it would set aside $350 million (Sh3.5 billion) to agriculture over the next five years.“We are committing $350 million to the existing loans in sup- porting agriculture in the country,” said Joshua oigara, Kcb chief exec- utive officer. Mr. oigara was one of the key private sector players who was present at AGrF.

“We have seen over the last few years just how quick and significant progress can be when we have the vision to work together,” said Kofi Annan, underlining the importance of partnerships in the bid to expand the growth of agriculture in Africa.

Despite the progress made in building partnerships, more still needs to be done to bring   togeth

er public sector, private sector and NGos are still needed to fast-track growth in Africa’s agricultural sec- tor. Public-private partnerships also needs to be closely considered due to their growing popularity.

“our experience in Africa has shown us that public-private part- nerships are a good way to achieve responsible growth at scale, and gov- ernments have become more open to this approach,” said Venkataramani Srivathsan, the managing director and ceo of African and Middle east at agri-business giant, olam International.

olam, which operates in 24 African countries, has partnered with the government of Gabon to set up the GrAINe program. the program was set up last year to boost agricultural production, with olam providing its experience in management of palm plantations and the government providing land and finance. Such public private partnerships can be replicated across Africa to improve outcomes in the agricultural sector.

It is also crucial that the sys- tems for data collection and analysis in the agricultural sector are over- hauled. this is because part of the reason why banks shy away from funding agriculture is that there is  information  asymmetry.  that  is,


banks have very little information on farmers and vice versa. Without timely and reliable information, the risks become too much to stomach, leading banks to turn away from farmers and the latter to turn to exploitive shylocks.


New challenges, opportunities equally important is the need for Africa’s agricultural sector to look at some of the recent developments and assess whether they present chal- lenges or opportunities.

Urbanization, for instance, pres- ents a great opportunity for food processing. As urban populations expand in size, they are also at the same time getting wealthier but bus- ier. Fewer people have the time to fix a meal and would opt for a quick snack from the supermarket shelves. this underscores the opportunity in food processing.

Food processing will help strengthen local value chains that can initially serve local markets, but later be scaled up to serve interna- tional markets. this will improve earnings for farmers as well as skill levels, making Africa more compet- itive.

climate change, which has hith- erto been presented in a negative way, also has its own set of opportu- nities depending on the  perspective

you view it from. It opens up the possibility of insuring against erratic weather patterns and extremities. What this does is that it helps refine and deepen the information that the financial sector can get on farming. In the long-run, this data can be use- ful in providing banks and financial institutions with sufficient insight on agriculture. this can help reduce the burden of financing in the sector as banks will be more inclined to lend if they have more information.

At the same time, climate change allows for greater scope of research-driven agriculture. this leaves more room for science in farming. A scientific approach to agriculture not only helps lessen the impact of climate change, but also brings on its own set of benefits in other areas such as seeds and irri- gation.

Higher quality GMo seeds that can withstand drought can substan- tially improve outcomes in African agriculture. A growing number of African countries have adopted use of these seeds, with AGrA saying that the volume of seeds generating

higher yields has increased almost fivefold since 2010.

Whether or not uptake of GMo seeds will pick up is something that cannot be clearly discerned at this point due to raging debate about GMos. on one hand, there are those that argue that the GMo seeds are unhealthy. on the other, there are those that argue that they create dependency, which is a more plausi- ble hypothesis given that most farm- ers who use hybrid seeds are forced to buy new hybrids seeds (sometimes at higher prices) each year rather than using surplus seeds from the previous year’s crop. Wading into this debate is like charging blind- folded into a minefield. this notwith- standing, there must be a consensus on these issues in order for Africa’s

agricultural revolution to go to the next level.


Historical issues

AGrA has positioned itself as the foremost player in the bid to drive Africa’s green revolution. the recent forum in Nairobi is undoubtedly the most pivotal one of the last five since the inception of AGrA. It provided a platform for incisive discussions and high level partnerships aimed at tackling some of the top issues affecting agriculture in Africa.

What is important now is for all stakeholders to follow the wise counsel of President Kagame:“more action and less talk.” even more important is for stakeholders to remember the skeletons of the past. Part of the reason why agriculture has not picked up at the pace that it should in Africa is that governments have dragged their heels on funda- mental issues such as infrastructure and education—issues that only it has the mandate to tackle.

Very few African rural farm- lands have access to roads and markets, with the result being that only 25 per cent of rural people can access market within two hours. Furthermore, few farmers are well educated. As such, they don’t have the skill set and business acumen to build value chains and estab- lish linkages and partnerships. this leaves most farmers at the mercy of middlemen, who more often than not take the lion’s share, leaving farmers poorer than they found them. Likewise, issues around irri- gation still abound, with only 5 per cent of cultivated land in the conti- nent being irrigated in comparison to 41 per cent in Asia.

Such historical issues such as irrigation, infrastructure and farm- ers’ holistic growth, including their education, still need attention; even as newer issues such as climate change, GMos and urbanization take center stage.