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Investing in agriculture

What motivates African governments to invest in different kinds of agricultural development? (© FAO/Simon Maina)
What motivates African governments to invest in different kinds of agricultural development?
© FAO/Simon Maina

What motivates African governments to invest in different kinds of agricultural development? What influence do domestic politics, external donors and pan-African networks have? And how successful can civil society and social movements be in pushing for more pro-poor agricultural policy in Africa?

These were some of the questions forming the agenda for the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa conference, held in Pretoria, 18-20 March, 2013 and co-organised by the Future Agricultures Consortium (FAC) with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS). Key figures from research, politics, donor organisations and civil society shared their views on the conference floor, and with New Agriculturist.

Why have African governments not met the 2003 Maputo Declaration of investing ten per cent budgetary allocation in agriculture?

Firstly, it is cheaper to import food from developed countries even if that undermines local production and therefore the economy. Politicians also have to focus more on developing the cities, as more and more people come in. There is also the issue of natural resources generating income for some African governments, such that they are not interested in investing in agriculture.
Mapedza Everisto, International Water Management Institute, South Africa

Politicians have very short term in office and so they want to get results very quickly, but agriculture needs long term investment, and one has to wait a long time for the results. Another reason is that the farmers are mainly smallholders and do not have the political sway to compel politicians to do things. Even when the politicians make promises to them, they do not fulfil them; we need to help make the voices of these farmers heard.
Samuel Asuming-Brempong, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Ghana

Many smallholders are inadequately served by research,
extension and advisory services (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
Many smallholders are inadequately served by research, extension and advisory services
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

The governments are not serious about smallholder agriculture. They are interested in big holdings where they can play a role and make personal money; they do not care about smallholders except when they want votes, and it is unfortunate. The only way out is to facilitate civil society organisations to empower the smallholder farmers so they can speak for themselves
Ruth Oniang'o, Editor-in-Chief and Founder at African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND)

Agriculture has not shown good returns to the economy because the farmers and other agribusiness investors are not properly organised, and so are unable to coordinate their demands from the government, so the government finds it easier to invest in sectors that are more organised and can show evidence of good returns on investment.
George T.M Kwadzo, Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Ghana, (FAC coordinator for West African Region)

Ten years down the line, barely ten countries have met the Maputo Declaration. It is a lack of political will. There is too much talk and not much action. Even though African leaders say it, they do not really understand how agriculture can be used as engine of national growth or they are just playing games.
Buba Khan, Africa Advocacy Officer, ActionAid International

The issue is not the ten per cent; it depends on the size of the economy. For some countries, the agricultural sector is so small, they may not need ten per cent. For others, the agricultural sector may be so large that they need 15, 17, 20 per cent. Then what goes into the measurement of investment in agriculture? Investment in roads for instance, may facilitate farmers' access to markets. Investment in other infrastructures also helps in agricultural development and these are not captured in the budget for agriculture. So when we insist on ten per cent, we need to define what we are measuring.
Kojo Asante, International Food Policy Research Institute, Ghana

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What role can and should donors play?

The donors as a group are very much committed to the principle that the countries themselves have to work out what the priorities are both in terms of policy reforms and in terms of public spending. But when we say the countries themselves this is not just a few consultants or a team in a ministry this is something that requires a public discussion. It needs to involve the private sector. It needs to involve farmer organisations and civil society organisations, whether it is land tenure reform, agricultural taxation, subsidy of agricultural inputs, these things need to be discussed and agreed at a country level and have strong political and popular support and then donors can get behind those plans.
John Barrett, Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods, UK Department for International Development (DFID)

The donors need to work with something already in existence, something that is already being mobilised effectively; it can be governmental or non-governmental. The international community can then assist them to prosper in their activities. Farmers' organisations are very viable, and that is something that should be in the country.
Heike Hoeffler, German Technical Corporation (GTZ), University of Leipzig, Germany

What influence do domestic politics, external donors and pan-African networks have on investments? (© FAO/Olivier Asselin)
What influence do domestic politics, external donors and pan-African networks have on investments?
© FAO/Olivier Asselin

The international community can influence our governments to invest more in agriculture. But some African governments that rely more on donors for funding of their budgets do not have the political will of making more investments in agriculture. So the donors should make more efforts at monitoring and ensuring the money is well utilised because there are a lot of corruption.
Robert Muriisa, Faculty of Development Studies, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda

No policies from the international community will be valid unless there is national political will. We have to be clear about our policies internally, as national governments, towards small farmers, and to investigate and deploy our own resources and mobilise our efforts. We need to set our priorities, include the small farmers in the decision making process and provide them with ownership of their policies and future. This way I think we can guarantee that any policies for small farmers will have a potential of success. I am not refusing international community aid but it should be demand-driven, not supply-driven.
Mohamed Abdel-Aal, Professor of Agricultural Extension, Cairo University, Egypt

With a small investment in agriculture, rural people can be assisted to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and hunger. If only the government of Nigeria could give out what it intends to spend on agriculture for an annual budget to the international community to implement, better future for agriculture in Nigeria could be assured.
Mohammed Iliyasu, Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Nigeria

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What role for civil society organisations?

We have to be very clear about what is the change we want to see and let that define our policy agenda. I think we must not limit ourselves to the policy topics that government puts on the table, because if we do, then the more radical aspirations we have for greater reform will never be realised through policy processes. Policy engagement is one tool, but we have an arsenal of weapons to affect change. Policy discussions on their own will not bring about the long term, radical change we want to see.
Fatima Shabodien, Country Director, ActionAid South Africa

Policies that respond to the needs of the smallholder farmers are required (© FAO/Filipe Branquinho)
Policies that respond to the needs of the smallholder farmers are required
© FAO/Filipe Branquinho

Civil society plays a very important role because we want to see policies that are actually responding to the needs of the smallholder farmers or of the people on the ground. So for these people on the ground to be able to be part of these processes. Civil society is one of the most important forums, one of the most important spaces where they can engage in these processes.
Tamani Nkhono-Mvula, Civil Society Agriculture Network, Malawi

If there is no accountability process, political leaders will continue doing business as usual, putting the country's money where it does not matter. This is why the new thinking in the CAADP process is to put in a kind of accountability mechanism, to enable African leaders to set the priorities, use their resources in meeting them and be accountable. If they don't do that, they would not be re-elected. That should change the way they do things. But we need the civil society organisations and farmers' organisations to achieve this.
Ousmane Djibo, GIZ-CAADP Programme Manager, South Africa

In our history we have faced three challenges - the same challenges African countries face today. First is the organisational challenge: how to construct democratic spaces, social mobilization and organisation on agriculture for the future. Second is a challenge concerning the capacity to say what kind of agriculture we want and what policies are needed to bring about this agriculture. And the third is an institutional dimension: how to construct pathways and spaces for the interaction, with civil society driving this process?
Arilson Favareto, Federal University of ABC Region, Brazil

We need to create champions, even within the politicians, and we do that by engagement and trying to influence them to not only think in the short term but also in the medium and long term. It's a negotiated process and there is no one actor that can make this change; it's a more of a concerted effort to do that and civil society has a role, the media has a role and policymakers have a role.
Hannington Odame, Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship, Kenya (FAC coordinator for East African Region)

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Directions for policy and investment

To increase agricultural production, a lot more has to be invested in extension; most African countries have not been able to do that successfully.
Mapedza Everisto, International Water Management Institute

Even if ten per cent of the budget is allocated to agriculture, it may be invested in the wrong place. So the drivers of change in the agricultural sector should be determined. Is it investment in cash crops, or food crops, or market linkages, or value addition to crops?
Kojo Asante, International Food Policy Research Institute

Youth engagement is critical to move the younger generation forward (© FAO/Riccardo Gangale)
Youth engagement is critical to move the younger generation forward
© FAO/Riccardo Gangale

We need to be able to focus CAADP on sustaining the momentum on three or four issues. One is women's engagement in agriculture, in decision making and in policy formulation. Secondly youth engagement is critical for us to be able to move the younger generation forward. And thirdly, we need to be conscious of and responsive to the needs of climate change, in terms of building resilience of communities.
Buba Khan, ActionAid International

There is no part of the world in which you have sustained agricultural production and also achieved food security without some element of subsidy. So was it right for Africa to eliminate subsidy or was it more necessary for the continent to find better and effective ways of ensuring that subsidies reach the beneficiaries? That is what the Malawi example should show us, from being a food deficit country to becoming a food surplus country in a short period of time.
Adebayo B Aromolaran, Department of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria

One very good model is the Indian model of providing subsidies to smallscale farmers. What they do, apart from really having a very strong research extension system and good infrastructure in terms of roads, communication and electricity, they have also provided a line of credit. But this line of credit, the actual subsidy, is not run by the government but is run by banks which are spread all over India.
Chance Kabaghe, Chairman, Regional Network for Agriculture Policy Research Institutes in Eastern and Southern Africa, Zambia

Date published: May 2013


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