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Lecture by Kanayo F. Nwanze President International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at Africa Together: Engendering an inclusive Africa, in Cambridge University, UK

Où: Cambridge University, UK

09 juin 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,


I would first like to thank Ms. Halimatou Hima, President of the ASCU, for her kind invitation to participate in this commemoration of Africa Day and a special thanks also to Nafisa Wazira, Finance Chair of Africa Together 2016.

I am proud to call myself an African – born, raised and educated in Nigeria.  Africa is in my blood. It is an intrinsic part of who I am.

And though my professional life has been international in scope, my work in development has often centred on Africa.

The title of today’s event is apt. From everything I have seen and everything I have experienced over a lifetime in development, I believe that Africa should be great and I know that Africa can be great.

But to achieve this we, as Africans, must embrace this collaborative spirit and pull together. It is a responsibility we all share.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Hope and History

When I think of Africa, I think of the Africa that gave the world the writers Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Africa that produced Mo Ibrahim, Aliku Dangote, and Manu Chandaria in commerce and humanitarianism, Youssou N’dour and Manu Dibango in music. The Africa that is leading the way in renewable energy with the world's biggest concentrated solar power plant. The Africa that is going to shine proudly at the Olympics this summer. I am not talking about the past, I am talking about today.

When I envision the future of Africa, I picture a continent where the energy and creativity of 200 million young women and men is creating new and exciting businesses and industries. A continent with a strong and diverse economic base and a richness in culture. A continent of endless possibility that has vanquished poverty and hunger.

I remember Africa in the 1960s and 70s. In those years, India was described as a hopeless case; millions of people in China were dying from famine and Brazil was dependent on food aid and massive food imports.

In those years, Africa was a beacon of hope. Many African countries were net exporters of major food.

I remember so well the pyramids of groundnuts in Kano, the bales of cotton in Bornu, Kano and Sokoto; the rice fields of Abakaliki, Nigeria and Korogho, Côte d'Ivoire, the floating timber along the West African coast; expanses of oil palm in Ghana, as well as Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire, not to mention tea plantations of East Africa.

In my lifetime, Africa provided aid to Korea.

Today, it seems that while much of the world has moved forward, Africa has moved backward.

Africa’s failure

Over the years, I have often asked myself: Why is Africa lagging behind other economies?

Our continent has singularly failed to industrialise. In fact, if there is any one thing that we have succeeded at consistently, it is failure!

In 1970, Africa’s share of global manufacturing was only 3 per cent. In 2013, it was even less, at 2 per cent!

According to the Brookings Institution, manufacturing output per person in sub-Saharan Africa is about one-third of the developing country average. And manufactured exports per person are about 10 per cent of the average for low-income countries.

I think I probably speak for all of us here today when I say that, as an African, I am tired of caricatures. I know the real Africa is brimming with talent and possibility.

But when the world talks about Africa and corruption, mismanagement, immature institutions and disorganized societies – we must look ourselves squarely in the eye and say: “This is true”.

And it has impeded progress at all levels, from the social to the economic.

Africa will never fully realise its potential until we ourselves, we Africans, acknowledge and confront our woeful governance issues.

Poverty is mainly rural

And Africa will never be great when 43 per cent of our population live in extreme poverty.

We know where poverty and hunger are highest. In our rural areas, not our cities and urban centres.

These are the areas where my institution, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), works.

IFAD is unique in being both a United Nations agency and an International Financial Institution. Our mandate is to eliminate rural poverty and hunger.

At IFAD, we go where few other agencies or NGOs go, because poverty and hunger run deepest in remote and fragile areas. We currently have 226 programmes and projects in 98 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last year, the largest share of new IFAD financing went to sub-Saharan Africa. We have already reached more than 250 million people in Africa, and the numbers are growing.

At the heart of IFAD’s work are small-scale producers. We have always taken a grassroots approach, working in partnership with poor women and men so they can grow more, earn more, and improve their food security and nutrition.

I am proud to say that IFAD’s approach to development is one that generates exceptional and lasting results on the ground.

Extractive industries

When I envision the future of Africa, I do not see it built on a foundation of extractive industries.

Yes, it is true that Africa is rich in minerals and natural resources.

These resources have generated vast wealth, but only for a small number of people. They have not translated into wide-ranging job creation, or social welfare or stability. They have not fed hungry people. They have not reduced poverty.

Let me give you some statistics:

Sub-Saharan Africa produces 74 per cent of the world’s platinum metals; 62 per cent of its cobalt and 54 per cent of its diamonds. Angola’s net oil exports were $24 billion in 2014 in real terms; Nigeria’s were $77 billion. Mali exported more than 53 tonnes of gold that year.

Where has all of this money gone to?

More than 330 million African children, women and men live in extreme poverty.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of child mortality in the world, with 83 out of every 1,000 children born live dying before their fifth birthdays. This compares to about 4 here in the UK.

More than 600 million Africans do not have access to modern energy. Sub-Saharan Africa’s average electricity consumption is half that of Spain’s, and 7 per cent of the United States.

Africa has five times fewer paved roads than developed countries. And our transport costs are 63 per cent higher.

If we have become poor, it is because we have managed our resources poorly.

In fact, there is strong evidence that poor countries with rich natural resources grow two to three times more slowly than countries without these resources.  This is sometimes called the resource curse.

Land and agriculture

At the same time, we are not managing our land resources wisely, and land is our strategic reserve. Arable land is becoming a valuable commodity -- and climate change will make it even more valuable in the decades ahead.

Africa has 25 per cent of the world’s arable land, but generates only 10 per cent of its agricultural output.

Africa could easily double its productivity simply by better management of existing farmland. And there is even more potential when you consider that half of the world's uncultivated land suitable for growing food crops is in Africa. 

It is well documented that  agriculture is an engine for economic growth and poverty reduction in developing nations.

Investing in better agricultural production would also cut Africa’s food import bill, which today stands at around US$35 billion a year, excluding fish.

This is money that should be fuelling Africa’s growth and creating wealth, employment and opportunity – not flowing out of the continent.

Do you know what this means? We are creating jobs for farmers in other countries – in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the USA – to grow our food, to make money, when 43 per cent of our people live in extreme poverty.

And if we are allowing others to benefit from our land resources instead of developing our land for the benefit of Africans, we have only ourselves to blame – if you rent out your bedroom you do not blame the tenant.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Clearly, there are sound social and economic reasons to focus on developing rural areas.

The bleakness of rural areas

We know that Africa is urbanizing rapidly. As long as African agriculture remains at the subsistence level, rural people will continue to migrate to urban areas and abroad in search of better lives and livelihoods.

And let me ask you, would you choose to live in a village if there was no school to send your children? If there was no clinic when you were sick. If you had to light kerosene lamps at night because there was no electricity. If the road that connected you to the nearest town turned to mud in the rain because it was unpaved?

These are also the conditions that compel people, particularly young men and women, to leave their families and their villages. They walk across mountains or deserts to cities in search of work.

Economic Migration

But cities cannot provide good jobs, good housing and sanitation for every person. Urbanization does not necessarily translate into affluence. So when they find more unemployment, hopelessness and squalor in the city, they set off anew – to Italy, Greece or Spain, and here to the UK. Because whatever the dangers they incur along the way, life was even more hopeless at home.

Migrants from Nigeria and Senegal are not running from conflict; they are escaping lives of desperation.

Opportunities for young people

By investing in rural economies, we can create a range of opportunity for Africa’s young people so that they are not forced to migrate. So that they can see a future for themselves in rural areas.

In sub-Saharan Africa, around 330 million young people will enter the labour market in the next 15 years. Of these, nearly 60 per cent will live in rural areas.

Today, nearly 22 per cent of our young people are unemployed or under-employed. This is unacceptable. And we all know the risks for society when young men and women have too much time on their hands and no real hope for their future.

At IFAD, we are well aware that the future of food and agriculture lies in the hands of young people. The average age of the African farmer is 60? Who is going to feed 4 billion Africans in 2050? And with a hoe and machete? We have steadily increased the youth focus of our projects, and also support global and regional youth networks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, I would like to share with you some of the most important lessons I have learned about how to have a lasting impact in development.

Lesson #1

The first is that development starts with people. This means listening to local people because they have local knowledge. They may not have university educations – or even be literate by our terms. But they too can be innovative. And they can introduce us to ways of thinking that are not confined by our own experiences and backgrounds.

Starting with the people means taking the time to build the capacity of farmers’ groups, organizations and cooperatives because, individually, smallholders have little power. But when they join together, they have greater purchasing and bargaining power, and can influence the policies that affect their lives.

Poor rural people know what they need. Our job is to help them get it.

Lesson #2

My second lesson is that farming, irrespective of scale, is a business, a profit-making enterprise – and profit and income should not be considered dirty words.

If farmers cannot make a profit so that they can invest in their businesses, send their children to school, and buy the food that they cannot grow, then there is little incentive to stay in farming. If they continue farming, they remain subsistent and poor.

Lesson #3

My third lesson is that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work in development. Over the course of my long career I have seen far too frequently how the best of intentions can fail when they are made in a vacuum -- without responding to the reality of the landscape or the desires of project participants.

For example, micro-irrigation may work wonders in the drylands of Senegal but will be of little use in the floodplains of Malawi. Helping farmers buy and raise pigs may improve food security and incomes in the DRC but will be of little value in most of my own country.      And higher yields are little use to a poor farmer who cannot safely store what she cannot sell, and who is five hours away from the nearest market town.

Lesson #4

My fourth lesson is that Africa will not advance and take its rightful place as a global leader unless it moves beyond the outdated mentality of past centuries, and offers our daughters the same rights and opportunities as our sons.

When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual. But when you invest in a woman, you invest in a community.

Women are the primary care givers in rural households, and when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for the family, and on education and healthcare for their children.

There is compelling evidence that women’s education, health, nutritional status and decision-making power have significant impact on the health and nutritional status of children.

Fifth lesson

My fifth and final lesson is that Africa will not achieve the 2030 Development Agenda or the 2063 African Union vision following the Malabo Declaration, no matter how much investment we pour into the continent without functional institutions, without good governance and the rule of law, and without committed and visionary leadership, look at Africa and you can tell where it works. And that is why I believe it doesn’t have to remain so!

Ladies and gentlemen,

And that is why I am an optimist and will always remain one. The world may seem to be in a terrible mess today, but my life’s experiences have shown me that there is hope.

Hopelessness destroys the will to live and the ego of self. It is only by holding onto hope, and promoting hope in others, that we can change the world.

Where I come from in Nigeria, there is a saying that when you go to the stream to fetch water, your bucket will be filled with the water that is yours. No one can take the water that is destined for you.  Life will give you what you deserve, nothing more and nothing less.  But first you must walk to the stream, bend down and dip your bucket.  

Walking to the stream is not always easy. When I was younger, I thought I would never get there. I was not born into wealth and opportunity. I was not born to be the head of a United Nations agency!

My father was a Primary School travelling teacher. The year I finished elementary school my family moved three times and I had to wait another year before I could start high school.

Then, just after High School, the Biafra war ravaged my country. 

Three years went by before I finally made it into a university campus.  I was 23 years old.

Yet I too reached the stream, and my bucket is certainly not empty.

It is now your turn to fill your buckets. All of you here today have the blessing of an education – and knowledge is power. Use your knowledge and your pens to promote hope and change the world. Write about Africa. Tweet. And take on the mantle of changing Africa.

The future is in your hands!

Thank you.