Investing in African farmers is a moral necessity but also an economic imperative, according to the head of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), who fears that recent progress in the continent’s agriculture sector could be eroded without further investment.
As she prepared to travel to Ethiopia to participate in the UN summit on financing for development, Dr Agnes Kalibata said climate change was the biggest challenge to the estimated 530 million Africans who rely on agriculture.
Climate change was the biggest challenge to the estimated 530 million Africans who rely on agriculture.
“[Climate change] is eroding the momentum we had gained in terms of getting farmers to use improved seeds and buy fertilisers,” she said. “If a farmer puts his small savings into seeds and fertilisers and loses the whole crop, that’s the end of his whole career.
“Even in countries that you would think are secure … climate change is real. Farmers are getting less rain, it’s more irregular and it’s beginning to affect their production and undermine the investment they are making.”
Agra was founded in 2006 through a partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation, which also supports the Guardian’s Global development site. The potential of African agriculture remains untapped, according to Agra.
The value of agricultural output could triple from an estimated $280bn (£179bn) today to about $800bn by 2030, according to an Agra policy paper presented in Addis. It also noted that investment in this sector, which employs half to two-thirds of Africa’s population, needs to be substantially increased, especially considering that a threefold rise in the continent’s demand for food is expected by 2050.
Investment in this sector, which employs half to two-thirds of Africa’s population, needs to be substantially increased.
Kalibata, who was previously Rwanda’s agriculture minister, said she wanted the Addis summit to acknowledge that “unless we finance agriculture, developing the African continent is going to be very difficult”.
The risks from climate change – including the migration of pests and diseases to new areas and increasingly sparse and irregular rainfall – demand more innovation and can sometimes drive modernisation, Kalibata said. For example, in the Sahel, the drought- and desert-prone region bordering the Sahara desert, farmers are ever more reliant on mechanisation to make the most of the planting season and capture every drop of increasingly scarce rain.
“As a continent, we need to start investing in stronger mechanisms of support systems, of insurance, so that crop loss can be looked at as something that is manageable at the farm level and at the country level,” Kalibata said.
Kalibata said she also hoped to see support for African smallholder farmers at aUN summit on climate change in Paris in December.
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Photo credits: © AGRA