A decade of intense domestic attention to farmers and food production has generated “the most successful development effort” in African history, with countries that made the biggest investments rewarded with sizeable jumps in both farm productivity and overall economic performance, according to a new report released today by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
These are among the key findings noted in AGRA’s 2016 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR), “Progress towards an Agriculture Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa.” The document provides an in-depth and unsparing review of an incredibly active ten-year period for African agriculture—one AGRA frames as a prelude for potentially big things to come. The analysis serves as a curtain raiser for this week’s high-powered African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Nairobi, which is attracting heads of state and high-level officials from around the world. And it could lock-in hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments for Africa’s often struggling farmers.
“The last ten years have made a strong case for agriculture as the surest path to producing sustainable economic growth that is felt in all sectors of society—and particularly among poor Africans,” said AGRA President Agnes Kalibata. “The track record is far from perfect,” she added. “Many governments face significant budget constraints and far too many farming families continue to lack basic inputs, like improved seeds or fertilizers. But the evidence is clear. When we invest in our farmers and in the all the things they need to succeed, good things happen across the economy.”
At Last, Agriculture Advances in Africa
The report finds that “after decades of stagnation, much of Africa has enjoyed sustained agriculture productivity growth since 2005, and as a result, poverty rates have declined in places like Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. The report notes that agriculture has had its biggest impact in countries that moved quickly to embrace the African Union’s Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme or CAADP, which was created in 2003. A key component of CAADP was its call for African governments to allocate 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture and to aim for six percent annual growth in the sector.
The AGRA report notes that even if they didn’t hit the 10 percent targets, early adopters of the CAADP goals have seen productivity on existing farmlands rise by 5.9 to 6.7 percent per year. This boost in turn helped spur a 4.3 percent average annual increase in overall GDP. Those later to the game achieved anywhere from a 3 to 5.7 percent growth in farm productivity and a 2.4 to 3.5 percent increase in GDP.
Meanwhile, countries that sat on the sidelines saw farm productivity rise by less than 3 percent and GDP rise by only 2.2 percent.
The trend is similar for declines in malnutrition, with countries that have embraced the CAADP process experiencing annual declines ranging from 2.4 to 5.7 percent, while those who have not averages only a 1.2 percent decline.
The Big Payoff from an Early Embrace of Agriculture in Africa
Countries that have implemented the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) have posted higher agriculture productivity and stronger GDP growth as well as sharper declines in malnutrition compared to countries that have not adopted the program by signing CAADP compacts. The differences are especially stark when comparing countries that signed up early, between 2007 and 2009, to those that have not yet signed. The early adopters are: Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
Annual Increase in Agriculture Production & Land Productivity
Early Adopters: 5.9% - 6.6%
Non-Adopters: 2.1% - 2.9%
Annual Increase in GDP Per Capita
Early Adopters: 4.3%
Non Adopters: 2.2%
Annual Decline in Malnutrition Prevalence
Early Adopters: 3.1%.
Source: 2016 African Agriculture Status Report, Chapter 2
“It’s clear that with agriculture now back at the top of Africa’s development agenda, the foundations have been laid for a renaissance in African agriculture that could quickly deliver benefits to the broader economy,” said David Ameyaw, one of the report’s lead authors who is head of Monitoring and Evaluation for AGRA.
He said the report found evidence that many farmers are “gaining more options in the seeds they plant, in the fertilizers they use, and in the markets available to purchase their produce.”
But African agriculture experts who contributed to the report make it clear that all is far from well. The report points out that Africa remains “the world’s most food insecure continent, with relatively low levels of agricultural productivity, low rural incomes, high rates of malnutrition and a worsening of food trade balance.”
Worrisome Trends, but Opportunities Abound
“Agriculture development is very uneven across the continent,” said Thomas S. Jayne, a professor of agricultural, food, and resource economics at Michigan State University and a co-author of the report. “Where there is the right mix of interventions, we see it delivering considerable economic opportunities and addressing fundamental development milestones, like improving nutrition. But where it is neglected, agriculture continues to be a barrier to generating more sustainable and equitable economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Overall, the 2016 AASR digs deep into a wide array of trends affecting African agriculture, some worrisome and others indicative of opportunities transform a sector that has consistently been long on potential and short on achievement. Among the reports key findings:
“Despite the unprecedented decade of impressive growth across the continent, much more remains to be done to sustain these gains and truly drive the agricultural transformation needed for Africa’s development and ensure a better life for all,” the authors note. “The good news is that a vibrant agricultural sector, while not the solution to all of our problems, will clearly promote food security and economic opportunities for all Africans. “
Former AGRA President Dr. Namanga Ngongi, who chairs the Board of Trustees for the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership, said the report should set the stage for a productive meeting when political leaders and agriculture experts converge on Nairobi later this week.
“My hope is that this incisive analysis of the current state of African agriculture will stimulate a more profound and impassioned debate about the kinds of investments and initiatives now required to make transformation of this sector a reality,” Dr. Ngongi said.