Africa Agriculture Status Report
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The latest Africa Agriculture Status Report, launched last week by the Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa (AGRA), reports significant progress in Africa’s agricultural sector following a decade of intensified attention from governments and the international community. Investment in agriculture by both governments and private sector actors has increased in many countries in the region, and there is evidence of increased agricultural productivity, enhanced nutrition, and increased off-farm job opportunities in the region’s expanding agri-food system.

African agriculture’s transformation from a subsistence, farm-centered sector to a more commercialized, productive agri-food sector is being driven by a number of factors. These include enhanced political will; the establishment of a proper enabling environment, due in large part to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) framework; the use of digital technologies and modern agricultural inputs; and increased access to financing and markets for smallholder farmers.

Country-level public spending on agriculture has increased, on average, from US$ 128.55 million in 1995-2003 to US$ 219.62 million in 2008-2014. As a share of total agricultural GDP, African government’s spending on agriculture increased during the same period from 5.1 percent to 5.8 percent.

The report finds that the share of Africa’s population engaged in small-scale farming for their primary employment today ranges from 40-65 percent. Ten years ago, that number ranged from 60-80 percent. As agricultural productivity grows, there is often a shift in employment to non-farm sectors; it appears that many African countries are now experiencing this trend. The expanded opportunity for more lucrative off-farm jobs can help subsistence farmers move out of poverty; the report cites that this movement has been the largest source of rural poverty reduction over the past decade. Further increases in off-farm employment will help drive economic development throughout the region.

Chapter 2 argues that the renewed attention to Africa’s agricultural sector can be largely attributed to CAADP, which provides a framework for increasing agricultural investment and productivity, reducing poverty, and ensuring food and nutrition security. While there has been significant variation in the extent to which countries have adopted and implemented CAADP resolutions, preliminary analysis suggests that governments that implemented the CAADP agenda earlier have experienced higher agricultural productivity growth and poverty reduction than their counterparts that implemented the agenda later or not at all. A similar trend can be seen in declines in malnutrition. According to the report, countries that adopted the CAADP agenda have experienced annual declines in malnutrition ranging from 2.4 and 5.7 percent over the past ten years, while countries that have not adopted the agenda have only seen declines of 1.2 percent.

Per capita GDP is rising throughout the region for the first time since 1990; this growth has extended to all sectors, including agriculture. Between 2000 and 2014, per capita GDP increased by an average of 2.3 percent for Africa, compared to global GDP growth rates of 2.5 percent. Even in 2009, when global per capita GDP declined, Africa’s economies maintained a growth rate of 0.8 percent. This steadily rising GDP has led to a decline in the incidence of poverty, from 15.5 percent in 1995-2003 to 12.5 percent in 2008-2014.

Clearly, the past decade has been a time of enormous progress for Africa, but many challenges remain to be addressed if the region is to reach the development targets set forth by the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2014 Malabo Declaration. The report sets forth several recommendations for African policymakers and development partners to sustain the positive momentum seen over the past ten years. The first is continued increased funding for the agricultural sector, particularly for agricultural research and development to ensure the availability of improved seed varieties and climate change adaptation strategies. Other important investments include transportation infrastructure to reduce transport costs and better connect rural areas to high-value markets.

The second recommendation is to improve and expand agricultural extension services to help farmers learn the skills necessary to navigate Africa’s changing agri-food system. These services should cover digital technology use, modern farm management and input use, climate change adaptation, and financing and marketing.

 Third, private investment in agricultural value chains, input supply chains, and the agricultural sector as a whole should be encouraged. This will help improve market access conditions.

Finally, governments need to ensure that agricultural policies are inclusive. Sustainable long-term growth in the agricultural sector will only be possible if smallholder farmers, women, minorities, and youths are given an equal role.

In addition, important knowledge gaps still remain regarding CAADP’s impact on food security and nutrition security indicators in the region. The Africa south of the Sahara Food Security Portal is conducting an online poll to help identify these gaps and prioritize further research.

The Africa Agriculture Status Report was launched at the sixth African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Nairobi, where African leaders, businesses, and major development partners pledged $30 billion to increase agricultural productivity, incomes, and employment in the region over the next ten years under the new “Seize the Moment” initiative.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Daniella Van Leggelo-Padilla / World Bank