Realizing the promise and potential of agriculture in East and Southern Africa

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Realizing the promise and potential of agriculture in East and Southern Africa

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
©IFAD/Amadou Keita

Agricultural productivity in the East and Southern Africa region has been increasing. However a number of challenges still remain. What investments need to be made by governments to face those challenges and eradicate poverty by 2030.

14 September 2016 – The fact that agriculture has the ability to transform lives in Africa has been well documented.

Agriculture accounts for 24 per cent of GDP across Africa, and agribusinesses 20 per cent. In the East and Southern Africa (ESA) region investments in agriculture have led to socio-economic development that can be viewed as optimistic.

The region has been in the process of transforming its agricultural sector due to increased productivity as more land is being cultivated.

However, this growth has not always led to poverty reduction, and many small farmers in the region continue to live in poverty while struggling to own land and access credit.

In Kenya, land ownership is becoming more concentrated, even as the number of plots of less than one hectare has doubled to two million.

Today IFAD launched its flagship publication, Rural Development Report 2016: Fostering Inclusive Rural Transformation. The report provides extensive insight into the future development of rural communities and brings together leading thinkers to analyse lessons learned from experiences across the globe.

Sana F.K. Jatta, IFAD Director for ESA, says that more inclusive rural transformation is the first step towards ending inequality in the region. ©IFAD/David Paqui

In the run-up to the launch of the report, Sana F.K. Jatta, IFAD Director for ESA, talks about the challenges and opportunities the region’s rural people face and how a more inclusive rural transformation is the first step towards ending inequality in the region.

Q: What are some of the greatest challenges facing rural people today in ESA?

“The 22 countries of the region are a very diverse group – stretching from South Sudan and Ethiopia in the north to South Africa in the south and from Angola in the west to all the way to Mauritius in the east. We have countries suffering from fragility; we have many middle-income countries struggling with major income disparities between the rural and urban areas and a rising middle class; we have big countries, like Ethiopia and Tanzania with large population pressures; and we also have small island States, like Comoros and Seychelles struggling with high transactions costs.

“Consequently, they face a large variety of developmental issues and challenges. The main one,  first of all, is the poor fertility of soil, particularly in the big countries in the eastern part of the region. The other is that drought and climate change – El Niño, for example – this year affected more than half of the countries in our region. Access to resources, in particular financial, is also a big constraint to investments and development in the rural areas. In addition, we do not have the right agricultural technologies being adopted by farmers, nor are there the right amount of investments to develop rural infrastructure in the region. Finally, another major challenge is the poor rural infrastructure compounding the lack of access to markets for farmers to sell their produce.”

Q: What are the greatest opportunities for farmers in the agricultural sector in the region you cover?

“Today, the good news is that in the ESA region, governments have recognized that agriculture is not  only for poverty alleviation; it is a sector where governments, farmers, and the private sector now recognize the need for them to co-invest  so as to increase productivity and production, add necessary value to agricultural produce, and to make it a business for all its actors. The President of IFAD, for example, has been one of the first to advocate, for the last seven to eight years now, for this new vision and way of looking at agriculture as a profit-making business enterprise, and that smallholders are the biggest segment of the private sector in developing countries.  I am happy this is slowly getting understood and internalized now by the main actors in the agricultural sector.

“Governments are at least making the right promises to invest in agriculture. In addition, there is now a growing consensus among development partners to invest more in the rural sector and in the smallholder agricultural sector. These and many more efforts are now successfully linking increasing numbers of smallholder farmers to markets. And there are greater efforts to make better use of  the increases in the flow of remittances, thereby further strengthening the availability of the right types of investments in the agricultural sector.”

Q: Why do you believe that rural transformation is an effective way to overcome poverty?

“Rural transformation goes beyond being an effective tool to manage poverty. It is something that must lead to improved livelihoods. Rural transformation allows farmers to participate constructively in the (rural and national) economy, which will help them develop their communities and particularly the lives of their children and ensure that the environment is suitable for them to become more and better educated.

"Rural transformation goes beyond getting food on the table to getting the right amounts and types of food.  It also helps rural youth enter and actively  participate in the economy, especially in the rural space.

“It is widely acknowledged that growth in agriculture is 11 times more effective in lifting people out of poverty than growth in mining, utilities and services sectors of the economy.  About 70 to 90 per cent of the populations in East and Southern Africa live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. If you can give them more and better employment through rural transformation,  that opens up markets, introduces commodity-based viable value chains, provides needed financial resources in a timely manner, and tightens the rural-urban nexus in mutually beneficial ways.  You are giving them a chance to become successful entrepreneurs thereby lifting themselves out of poverty and improving their living conditions.”

Q: What do we need to do to support smallholder farmers in feeding an expanding global population, considering the 2030 Agenda “to leave no one behind”?

“First of all, we know that in many countries, especially in our region, small farmers form the majority of the workforce in the agricultural sector. They produce 80-90 per cent of all the food in Africa and Asia. So we must invest in small farmers to ensure that they not only lift themselves out of poverty but continue to produce the food needed to feed the increasing population of the world. This is true in ESA, as it is throughout the world. How do we invest in them?  It is by giving them the resources they need, including  access to land, access to rural financing services,  access to markets and access to technology.

“IFAD is leading the way in ESA by focusing attention on the specific needs of small farmers because we believe that if you strengthen them, they can become productive in the economy, instead of becoming a drain on the economy. So I believe that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we have to invest in small farmers. Recent estimates of the African Development Bank (ADB) put the amount of investment needed between 2015 to 2025 to transform African agriculture at about US$315-400 billion.”

Q: How can governments in ESA draw poor and marginalized rural dwellers into the mainstream?

“African governments kept the promise that they would continue to invest in agriculture and rural development. Unfortunately, few of them have reached the target of allocating at least 10 per cent of their total expenditure to agriculture to bring the rural and urban economies closer together. They must invest massively in infrastructure to establish a strong link between rural and urban markets. The governments must also keep their promise to spend 1 per cent of their agricultural GDP on research and development on innovative technologies and processes/procedures because African agriculture is way behind the rest of the world.

“There are 79 researchers per 1 million people in Africa compared to 550 in Latin America and around 3,000 in the United States.  Another roadblock that must be removed is that the governments are not making life easy for the private sector to actively play their role in the development of their countries’ economy. They must make the regulatory framework and environment conducive for the private sector to invest. The ADB analysis, estimates that the investment of $ 315-400 billion in developing 18 value chains in the whole of Africa will create new markets worth $85 billion per year by 2025. These are the kind of things governments should be focusing on: building the environment to attract not only the public sector but also the private sector.”

Q: What interventions need to be made to improve employment, access, and rights to land and resources, finance, agrifood markets and value chains, technology, innovation, empowerment, gender equality and social protection?

“IFAD is investing massively now to encourage and enable governments and others invest in all of the above areas. Now, each IFAD-supported project in ESA has an element addressing the key challenges facing the rural communities. Regarding land, we are systematically encouraging governments to put in place new rules and regulations that will improve access to land for poor farmers, and even put in place national policies that will encourage all the players to work together in loose or tight value chains  to improve production and productivity in the agricultural sector. Thus, the necessary interventions are not just in infrastructure alone but also in policy development and policy dialogue to encourage  governments adopt, and stay focused on,  long -term development  plans that prevent catastrophic policy reversals.

“The biggest difference I found comparing many of the African countries that I know to some of the Asian countries where I worked is the fact that in Asia, when governments decide to address an issue they stay focused on it for the next 10, 15 or 20 years until it is resolved.  Those who come to power align themselves and contribute to advancing the course.

"In some countries in Africa, governments tend to flip-flop between policies and strategies; any new donor or development partner who comes along with a new idea and tells them that it is the best, they take it on and forget what they were doing before. And consequently, at the end, say after 10 years, they often do not have anything to show for it. Sometimes it is not even because of new donors or external influence. When a new Minister or a new government comes in and doesn’t like the old government, they just start doing new things, no matter if the one before was good or not. That's because of the weakness of their national institutions.

“Our institution’s – IFAD’s – strength lies in building the capacity of  African civil society organizations, and public and private sector players that enable them to make joint  efforts to stay on course. I think that it is what has to be done.”

Q: What is  IFAD doing to solve some of the challenges such as insecure land tenure, lack of basic infrastructure, inadequate credit and insurance and ethnic and gender disparities? 

“IFAD is investing in building the capacity of governments, helping their decentralization because some of these things are affected by decentralized local governments. If we don't have the capacity at the decentralized level, these things cannot happen.

"The second thing is to build the policy framework of governments to make sure they confront all the constraints which affect all the small farmers. And we are encouraging governments to invest money into  all of the areas mentioned, such as, providing rural financial services, including crop insurance; strengthening gender mainstreaming; and empowering youth, women, and indigenous populations and ethnic minorities wherever they exist. This is the only way to reach the 2030 Goals, especially reaching zero poverty and zero hunger,  including food security and improved nutrition.”

Q: What policies can governments implement to improve the lives of poor rural poor people?

“Governments have to build the nexus between the rural sector and the urban areas more tightly, so that the rural sector can become a constructive player in the overall economy. Rural development policies and strategies must focus on increasing production and productivity, building infrastructure (physical and digital) linking rural and urban markets more tightly, raising rural incomes, improving living conditions through improved sanitation for example, and many more.

"Policies must draw more investments towards the rural sectors, including governments keeping their promise of spending at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to promote agricultural development. Policies must empower women, youth, and ethnic minorities to play a bigger part in the economies.”

About the Report

The Rural Development Report , IFAD’s flagship publication, is a rallying call to policymakers and development practitioners to end poverty and hunger in all its forms everywhere. The report looks at how to bring rural people into the economic mainstream and how to transform rural areas so that development is not only inclusive but also socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

Browse the report online and follow the conversation online at #ruraltransformation.