New challenges, new opportunities: African agriculture in the 21st century

Presentation of the Rural Poverty Report 2011 in Cape Town

IFADs flagship publication – Rural Poverty Report 2011 – New realities, new challenges: new opportunities for tomorrow's generation – is a comprehensive review of the daily reality facing the world's one billion poor rural people, the challenges they face and the opportunities that are emerging for them to lift themselves out of poverty. This year's report is the first edition since 2001.

A high-level discussion event will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, on 3 May under the auspices of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) together with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), the country's premier research institute on international issues. The discussions will focus on rural poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and on the development solutions that will enable poor rural people to harness new opportunities to generate economic growth.

A panel of five eminent speakers will highlight issues related to pro-poor rural policies and gender and youth dimensions of smallholder agriculture and rural enterprise development. They will also explore how investment in Africa's agricultural sector could spark wide economic development across the continent.

Scheduled to take place just prior to the World Economic Forum's Africa meeting in Cape Town, this event will bring together heads of state and other key leaders from the region's government, business, media, non-profit and academic sectors.

New opportunities to combat rural poverty in sub-Saharan Africa

While Africa continues to face enormous challenges in reducing rural poverty, a vision of economic renaissance led by smallholder farmers is beginning to take hold. There is growing belief that Africa can produce enough not only to feed its own citizens but to export a growing surplus. Africa can make a real contribution to ensuring food security for the world while also growing its economy and pulling its citizens out of poverty.

Related advances are already taking place:

  • In the past decade, real GDP across the continent grew at twice the level of the two previous decades.
  • The African Development Bank predicts that 6 African countries will achieve 7 per cent growth this year. Another 15 countries will see 5 per cent growth, and 27 countries will have growth above 3 per cent.
  • The International Monetary Fund believes that Africa will have as many as 7 of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world over the next decade.
  • Governments have been channeling more resources into agriculture, pursuing the African Union's goal of increasing public investment in agriculture to 10 per cent of national budgets per year.
  • In many areas, partnerships are improving access to higher yielding seeds and fertilizers, improving soil fertility, strengthening technical training and boosting access to credit.

As a result, smallholder farmers have become more productive and more prosperous. While noting the persistence of poverty in many areas of Africa, IFAD's Rural Poverty Report also points out the decline in the proportion of extremely poor people among all rural people over the last decade. Clearly the seeds have been planted to harvest a turnaround in Africa's fortunes.

Investing in African agriculture: key to global food security in the 21st century

Global population will continue to grow over the coming decades, and it will grow fastest in cities. To feed the world's estimated 9 billion people in 2050, agricultural production will have to rise by 70 per cent. Much of that increase will need to come from developing countries.

Raising their agricultural production is critical to global food security in the coming decades.

According to the report, profound changes in agricultural markets are giving rise to new and promising opportunities for smallholder farmers in developing countries. As a result, farmers will have more incentives to boost their productivity.

But helping them get access to these markets – and increase their negotiating power in them – is key. So is providing farmers with support to make their farming systems more productive, more sustainable and more resilient. Using resources efficiently and adapting to the effects of climatic and other shocks will be the hallmarks of smart farming in the coming decades.

In some sub-Saharan African countries, more than 60 per cent of the population is under 25 years old. While young people are a huge potential resource, many are migrating to cities in search of opportunities, leaving behind an increasingly ageing population. It is vital – and ultimately beneficial for everyone – to turn this trend around. Reality will quickly dim the bright lights of the city for this generation. But if they stay on the farm, these upcoming smallholder farmers will be in the forefront of innovative, knowledge-intensive agriculture. Substantial and sustained investments focused on young farmers are essential to harness their energies and ambitions.

Clearly, it is time to look at poor smallholder farmers in a completely new way – not as charity cases but as people whose innovation, dynamism and hard work will bring prosperity to their communities and greater food security to the world in the decades ahead.

IFAD's Rural Poverty Report highlights four areas where particular attention and investment is needed.

  • Rural areas must become a place where people want to live and do business: there is need to invest in infrastructure, utilities and services, and improve the governance of the rural areas.
  • Poor rural people need the skills to manage the multiple risks they face, which often prevent them from taking advantage of economic opportunities: The rural environment must be made less risky, and people must be helped to better manage risk, both in their agricultural production systems and in their broader lives.
  • A more productive, sustainable and resilient form of agriculture is knowledge-intensive, requiring smallholder farmers to develop new skills and capacities: Access to education and training must be expanded, and they must be adapted to rural needs and with focus on young people in particular.
  • Participating in organizations gives poor rural people power, confidence and security: Support is needed to strengthen collective capacities for reducing risk, managing assets, marketing produce and representing and negotiating interests. And space at the table must be made available for these organizations.

From the Rural Poverty Report 2011: quick facts on sub-Saharan Africa

  • The rural population is likely to continue growing, albeit ever more slowly, till 2045, when it will peak and begin to decline.
  • More than three quarters of the poor live in rural areas.
  • On-farm production is a particularly important source of income: At the national level, between 40 and 70 per cent of rural households earn more than three quarters of their income from on-farm sources.
  • A significant proportion of Africa's population remains economically isolated from growing regional and global market opportunities due to Africa's relatively high costs resulting from inadequate infrastructure and policies in the transport and power sectors.
  • Children and youth comprise 62 per cent of the population, and among poor rural populations their proportions are likely even higher.
  • Urban food markets offer enormous potential for regional intra-trade in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Much of Africa's soils are of low inherent fertility and have been degrading.



Questions for discussion

The high-level panelists will be invited to discuss key questions on rural poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. These include the following:

How do we ensure that the increasing public and private investments in Africa's agricultural sector provide more results for smallholder farmers than in the past?

  • What national policies would encourage large numbers of smallholder farmers to farm in the way that's described in the Rural Poverty Report – more productive, more sustainable and more resilient to climate change?
  • The Report puts a lot of emphasis on improving the skills of smallholder farmers and highlights the opportunities resulting from Africa's young, and better educated rural population. What is required for this new generation of women and men to lead agriculture's future growth?
  • We know that women everywhere play key roles in producing food and ensuring the food security of their families. What are the particular challenges that rural African women face in their fight against poverty?
  • How important is the non-farm rural economy from the perspective of poverty reduction? Does it really offer new economic opportunities for rural people to move out of poverty?