The week-long African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) ended on Friday with African Heads of State, private sector, donors and philanthropists pledging billions of dollars to help transform agriculture on the continent.

The forum which began on Monday September 5 ended on September 9 with pledges of up to $30 billion (Ksh3 trillion) while presiding over a high level panel that Rwanda President Paul Kagame, former Nigeria and Tanzania presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Jakaya Kikwete and representatives of the public sector, promised to do all in their means to boost the agriculture sector in Africa.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday led other stakeholders to pledge the money in investments to increase production, income and employment for smallholder farmers and local African agriculture businesses over the next ten years.

The collective pledges at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) that ends today at the UN Complex in Gigiri, Nairobi, are believed to represent the largest package of financial commitments to the African agricultural sector to date, backed by the broadest coalitions ever assembled in support of food production on the continent, Uhuru who was joined by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and other speakers at the AGRF high level panel, laid out a bold vision for how agriculture transformation can be achieved in Kenya and across Africa.

The President committed himself to deliver on both the political and policy agenda, announcing that his government will invest Sh20 billion (US $200 million) for 150,000 young farmers and young agriculture entrepreneurs can gain access to markets, finance, and insurance, Uhuru as chairman of the African Peer Review Mechanism called for a continental scorecard that will measure and track the commitments to agriculture transformation and ensure they translate into action and promised that agriculture will be part of the agenda of the institution he chairs.

Other agriculture investors and development partners who announced new financial and policy commitments include the African Development Bank (AfDB), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Group, OCP Africa, World Food Programme, Yara International ASA, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Gayle Smith, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), called for investors and donors to be bold and do their part to achieve "A Food-Secure 2030".

The US government already has invested more than $6.6 billion in global food security and nutrition efforts through its Feed the Future initiative. This commitment is now locked in for the long-term following approval in July of the bipartisan Global Food Security Act legislation. Smith noted that the initiative "signals the US government's enduring commitment to global food security and nutrition and is the largest development authorisation the US Congress has made in a decade," Smith said.

AfDB's President Dr Akiwumi Adesina pledged US $24 billion over the next ten years, representing a 400 percent increase over previous commitments, to help drive agricultural transformation in Africa.

"A key pillar of AfDB work will be support for the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) programme, which is scaling up various agriculture technologies for millions of farmers. AfDB support will also accelerate access to commercial financing, buttressed by proven approaches to reducing risks of commercial lending to smallholder farmers and other agriculture businesses," Adesina said.

He added, "Now is the time to come to the aid of our long-suffering farmers and give them the modern agriculture technologies they need to ensure a good return for their labor and hard work."

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation promised to contribute US $5 billion to African development over the next five years. The package will include at least US $1 billion for agriculture, based on expenditures in recent years. The agriculture investments will continue the Gates Foundation's work to expand crop and livestock research, strengthen data for decision-making, and improve systems to deliver better tools, information and innovations to farmers.

Speaking to the conference via a pre-recorded video, Bill Gates praised AGRA, which sponsors and organises the AGRF, for work over the last ten years that has reached some 15 million farmers.

"We are excited about what AGRA has achieved. We are committed to them and feel like it is a huge part of this whole vision," Gates said.

In addition, both the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation promised to renew their support for AGRA as it embarks on an ambitious series of partnerships to support agriculture-led economic transformation across entire countries. The Gates Foundation also promised to match "dollar for dollar" other development partner support for AGRA programmes.

The Rockefeller Foundation promised US $180 million in additional commitments. The contribution includes US $50 million beyond the US $105 million already invested in AGRA and its partners over the last ten years. In addition, the Foundation is providing US $130 million for its Yieldwise initiative, work directed by AGRA and other partners that is deploying better storage, handling and processing capabilities to reduce the significant post-harvest losses on African farms due spoilage or pests.

"Food loss and waste across the value chain threatens farmers' livelihoods and costs the global economy more than the combined 2015 profits of the Fortune 500," said Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation adding that in sub-Saharan Africa, 40 to 50 percent of certain staple crops are lost post-harvest.

Joshua Oigara, chief executive officer of Kenya Commercial Bank Group (KCB) pledged $350 million to finance agriculture business opportunities that could reach some two million smallholder farmers, which is five percent of the bank's overall lending portfolio. Out of the amount, $200 million will go toward improving market infrastructure and mobilising farmers and US $150 million through the KCB Foundation to support livestock farmers. KCB will also work with the MasterCard Foundation, contributing US $30 million each year to helping smallholder farmers to access credit and market information via mobile devices.

The World Food Programme (WFP) committed to purchase at least US $120 million of its agricultural products each year from smallholder farmers in Africa through a partnership called the Patient Procurement Platform. The US $120 million represents 10 per cent of WFP's annual procurement budget. Ertharin Cousin, WFP Executive Director, also announced that the Patient Procurement Platform would expand into Kenya and three other countries in 2017.

OCP Africa pledged US $150 million over the next five years from OCP Africa to support local fertilizer distribution, storage and blending in Africa. Tark Choho, Managing Director of the OCP Group and Chief Executive Officer of OCP Africa, said OCP also will focus on building fertiliser plants in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is in discussions with five countries. The investment is expected to increase access to fertiliser for Africa's smallholder farmers and is projected to cost US $1 billion.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will give US $3 billion to African agriculture over the next six years in keeping with its current policy of spending at least 50 per cent of its annual US $1.1 billion in Africa. IFAD's investments focus on intensive efforts to generate jobs in farming and food production, particularly for African youth and African women.

"Those of us who have been fortunate to achieve so much over a rich and full lifetime must now do everything in our power to provide our young people with opportunity and hope," said Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD and first winner of the prestigious new Africa Food Prize that was awarded during this year's AGRF.

Yara International ASA (Yara), which has been involved in African agriculture for more than 50 years, has pledged to continue with significant investments that can link smallholder farmers to lucrative value chains. "We believe there is a tremendous opportunity for the African agriculture sector to grow from being a net importer to an exporter of food," said Yara CEO, Svein Holsether.

Young people, who form the biggest part of population in Sub Saharan Africa, have little or no interest in agriculture, a sector that drives the region’s economy.

And now, experts at the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2016 have said that it will take more than financial persuasion to hook them into the sector.

“Even with donors promising subsidies to Africa’s youth in agriculture, the generation is faced with the twin problems of skills transfer and motivation,” said Ambrose Agona, the director general, National Research Organisation (NARO) of Uganda.

Other experts said that the absence of youth engagement in Africa’s agriculture is due to poor policies that do not cater for the interest of the youth.

“Governments must link scientists to what is happening in the industry and markets,” said Micheni Ntiba Kenya’s s principal secretary for Fisheries. “There is need to follow up research to ensure that it is incubated as a business because the youth will always want to go to where money is.”

Experts further observed that some scientists were working in silos.

Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International chief executive officer, Florence Wambugu said pointed out that African scientists must interact with farmers to understand what kind of innovations Africa needs.

According to her, Africa may be doing well with a growth path of six per cent but failure to win the youth into agriculture will not help Africa fight poverty and climate change.

“Researchers must break the silos and work through value chains so as to attract the youth into the sector,” said Wambugu.

Meanwhile, a new report released during the AGRF meeting accuses financial institutions of failing the youth in terms of capital access.

According to the AGRA 2016 African Agriculture Status report, only 6 per cent of rural households in sub Saharan Africa are borrowing from formal financial institutions.

Over 230 million or one in five people is undernourished in Africa due to lack in sufficient or nutritious food.

This number could increase to 350 million by 2050 if appropriate adaptation measures are not taken to cope with the intensity of future climate change.

According to the World Bank report released at the ongoing Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) conference at UN, Gigiri, a projected rise in extreme weather events and average temperatures of about 2 degree celsius by mid century could substantially reduce the land suitable for growing the main staple crops, and reduce crop yields by up to 20 per cent.

African agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate risks, but is also a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The report notes that climate change and food insecurity are the twin crises that may define Africa’s future.

Food production in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) needs to increase by 60 percent over the next 15 years to feed a growing population.

Feeding Africa nutritiously and sustainably will require a more sustainable and climate-smart food system. Without major investments in agriculture, the average African would have access to 21 per cent fewer calories and climate change would increase the number of malnourished children by 10 million.

The report notes that if unaddressed, climate change will erode Africa’s hard-won development achievements and jeopardise the prospects for further growth and poverty reduction.

Fortunately, African agriculture is well-positioned for transformational change. Throughout Africa, there are over 200 million hectares of uncultivated land that can be brought to productive use.

Africa uses only two percent of its renewable water sources. Africa’s food and beverage markets are expected to top $1 trillion in value by 2030. More than a dozen agribusiness investment funds have set their sights on Africa.

African agriculture is also energised by entrepreneurial youth and an engaged private sector that is taking note of its potential. Young Africans are making agriculture a viable business, creating opportunities for farmers, as well as themselves.

The report found out that while agriculture contributes to the climate problem, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions, it also has the potential to be part of the solution here in Africa.

Improved practices can help African countries increase productivity, while also enhancing the resilience of farming systems, and achieving lower emissions–the triple win of climate-smart agriculture.

The Africa Climate Business Plan (ACBP) was launched COP 21 in Paris to address Africa’s intricately linked climate and development agendas.

The plan calls for US$ 16 billion in funding to help African people and countries adapt to climate change and build up the continent’s resilience to climate shocks.The plan includes a focus on climate-smart agriculture and supports the vision for accelerated agricultural transformation of the Malabo Declaration.

The World Bank has been supporting  African governments in making climate-smart agriculture a priority.

As a major financier of sustainable agriculture projects across Africa, the World Bank is committed to supporting climate-smart agriculture (CSA) for ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the Africa region.

The Bank supports CSA in Africa by advocating for regional CSA initiatives, fostering adoption of CSA policies and financing national and regional investment programs to scale up implementation of CSA technologies.

In collaboration with partners, the World Bank is working towards achieving the following targets in Africa by 2026: Adoption of CSA by 25 million farmers, the establishment of CSA on three million hectares of farmland, the creation of improved pastoral systems in at least 15 countries and improved capacity to implement CSA policies in at least 20 countries.

The World Bank urges that for Africa build a more climate-smart agriculture and food system, African farmers need new technologies—including higher yielding, more resilient crops and livestock that can deliver abundant harvests in the face of a changing climate.

The farmers also need access to timely, cost-effective, and personally relevant information on improved agricultural practices, markets, prices, inputs, weather―and news of impending disasters.
Agro-weather forecasting and dissemination tools and market advisories can help farmers address the challenges of climate variability and change and enhance their resilience.

Farmers will require well designed, inclusive, and innovative knowledge management systems. The priorities are to strengthen farmers' knowledge of CSA practices, facilitate sharing the techniques, and provide the greatest support to local and indigenous knowledge systems.

Africa also needs sound policies and an enabling environment that encourages the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and achieving the above will require the committed efforts of smallholder farmers, governments, the private sector and science.

Scaling up climate-smart agriculture Africa is vital to end hunger and boost shared prosperity.

Africa is a continent where, at least outwardly, we like to celebrate our diversity—the rich variety that can be found in our many cultures, languages, fashions, flora and fauna. That’s why it’s perplexing to see such a large segment of the African population depending on a very small number of food crops, like maize, rice and wheat. And it’s more than just boring to the palate. It’s severely diminishing the quality of our diets and making our farming systems more vulnerable, especially during severe droughts like the one that hit Southern Africa this year.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of talk lately about how Africa’s agriculture sector is primed to become a new economic engine for a continent that has become too dependent on commodities like oil. This week, Heads of State and top officials from across Africa and around the world are coming to Nairobi for the African Green Revolution Forum, where there could be millions of dollars in new commitments for Africa’s smallholder farmers.

But Africa is unlikely to achieve its agriculture potential, or be prepared to deal with challenges like drought that climate change will make more frequent, unless we change our thinking about crop diversity.

For the last two decades, my work has revolved around developing and promoting nutritionally enhanced sweet potato. It has convinced me that, with the right approach, farmers will cultivate a wider variety of crops and consumers will embrace the new additions to their dinner table.

Africa is actually blessed with a wealth of crop diversity. Much of it – including sorghum, yam and cowpea – is native to the continent. But many other crop types have arrived via trade, like banana, pigeon pea and wheat from Asia, and beans, cassava and maize from the Americas. But rather than capitalize on this full basket of food options, we’ve bet too heavily on just a few crops.

Take the case of maize in Eastern and Southern Africa. Yes, it can grow in different farming environments and supply large amounts of calories. But the crop has weaknesses. It’s susceptible to drought and pests and its nutritional quality is mediocre.

And while recent research has delivered more resilient and nutritious maize varieties, these are not sufficient. The fact remains that in many regions, rising temperatures and increasingly erratic rainfall will cause maize yields to fall—by up to 22 percent in many areas and up to 60 percent in South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to a 2015 report from the Montpellier Panel.

There is a strong body of research showing that farmers are much less likely to suffer catastrophic losses from pests, disease or drought if they plant a broader array of crops. Today, the devastation caused by outbreaks of lethal necrosis in maize and stem rust in wheat is greatly intensified by the lack of alternative crops. In Malawi, while drought ruined maize and bean crops this year, farmers growing naturally hardy, nutritional crops like chickpea and sweet potato fared much better.

If the benefits are so clear, then why don´t farmers just spontaneously diversify? The answer is that they may want to diversify, but often don’t due to policy and institutional barriers. When crops like maize started to dominate, governments and the private sector accelerated their take-over by providing subsidies, research and other support. Meanwhile, other potentially useful crops like cassava and sorghum were neglected, sometimes acquiring derogatory labels like the “poor man´s crop” or “crop for marginal lands.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve learned from my work with sweet potatoes that we can turn Africa´s “Cinderella crops” into the belle of the ball.

First, we need research that is focused on adding value to these crops and further enhancing their already natural resilience. In the case of sweet potato, we bred for higher levels of beta-carotene (the chemical precursor of vitamin A), better drought tolerance and virus resistance.

A second critical task: farmers need a reliable source of healthy seed. This is not easy for crops typically ignored by local and multinational seed companies, especially if they are propagated with bulky and perishable plant parts like sweet potatoes. For sweet potato, we worked through local farmer networks and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to achieve large-scale multiplication and dissemination of improved planting material.

Finally, marketing and branding, not something that comes naturally to researchers like myself, have to be part of the picture. We employed a variety of marketing and communications tools to make consumers aware of the many benefits of the sweet potato – as a staple food, animal fodder, snack and ingredient in processed foods.

The theme for the upcoming African Green Revolution Forum is “Seize the Moment” and I can’t think of a better time for influential leaders attending this meeting to make crop diversity a central part of their plans for African agriculture. Just as many will admire the colorful dress of West African attendees, they should also be embracing a larger mosaic of food crops for our farmers. I’ve already seen the good things that happen when a big colorful splash of orange-fleshed sweet potato is added to African farms and African diets.  

Maria Andrade, a plant breeder at the International Potato Centre, is among the four winners of the 2016 World Food Prize. She is a member of AGRA’s Board.


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