The Chair “Agricultural modernisation policies in Africa” aims to bring together farmers, agribusinesses, political decision-makers, and international partners to reflect on how to accelerate the development of agriculture in Africa, and in particular in sub-Saharan African countries.
The agricultural sector in Africa is in a paradoxical situation: it occupies an essential economic and social position, but does not ensure food self-sufficiency, and it is maintaining the vast majority of rural populations in a dangerous situation of precarity and poverty.
The challenges are considerable in the light of urbanisation, increasing food imports, lack of added value products, and the increasing number of risks – climate-related, food-related, and security-related.
It contributes 23% to GDP and is a real reservoir of employment since it represents an average of 55% of the working population of African countries, and 70% of the overall population lives from agriculture (ILOSTAT, 2017).
Africa has 60% of the world’s unexploited arable land. The potential for irrigating land from major rivers is considerable – 85% of irrigable land is still not exploited.
On a larger scale, Africa has a reserve of 600 million ha of uncultivated land that can be developed, in particular through the application of agri-ecological techniques for soil reconstitution.
As for demand, the African market is expanding rapidly, driven by population growth, particularly in coastal cities, with urbanization and the emergence of a middle class. With 1.2 billion inhabitants in 2017, the continent is expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050.
Feeding this population is possible provided that a double green revolution is carried out, in which it will be necessary to both improve the technical and economic performance of farming systems and preserve natural resources, including soil, biodiversity, and water, while adapting to climate change.
African agriculture is facing a colossal challenge related to population growth, but also to the effect of climate change.
The trend of recent decades is not encouraging, because Africa is importing more and more for food.
Public commitments made by African States in Maputo in 2003 and 2014 to devote more budgetary resources to agriculture have not been met, nor have the promises to foster substitution products for imported ones. There is still not enough local processing and therefore not enough local added value created.
The continent is less and less food self-sufficient; and food is a burden on both urban household budgets and states’ balance of payments. Food dependence on the outside world continues to grow in terms of imports of proteins, fats, and dairy products.
This situation is the result of many factors, among which is probably a production system that remains very extensive, particularly in West and Central Africa, with family farms that are crumbling and keeping many of the actors in a very precarious situation. Poverty remains endemic in the countryside.
This observation is part of a general context aggravated by the multiplication of risks, particularly climatic and environmental, but also security risks in many regions.
14 years after the 2008 hunger riots in more than 10 African countries, the war in Ukraine has once again revealed and aggravated the situation - there are more malnourished people, and food shortages could worsen.
Paradoxically, most current strategies, whether national or proposed by donors, conclude that productivity improvements are needed to increase farmers' incomes, reduce the cost of food, promote economic growth which is conducive to poverty reduction, and ensure the sustainability of agricultural systems in terms of natural resource conservation.
Unfortunately, the reality is very different. Public policies do not seem to be clearly defined, and above all, implemented with the will to improve the sector's performance, if only to meet domestic demand.
Sub-Saharan African countries do not invest sufficiently in public goods with a high economic return. Such needed investment could include research and innovation to develop and disseminate new technologies and agricultural practices, but also strengthening marketing mechanisms and rural infrastructure.
On this last point, the improvement of living conditions in rural areas is essential to promote the development of a strong and competitive agricultural sector. According to the World Bank, the lack of infrastructure for access to various services will require more than €100 billion in annual investments in Africa over the next few years. The improvement of infrastructures is a strategic axis of development that would allow the agricultural and livestock sector to improve its competitiveness, by lowering both the cost of supplying inputs and marketing outputs. As well as the connectivity aspects of logistics, administrative and regulatory barriers are also a major obstacle to the development of efficient African logistics and should therefore be the subject of vigorous action by public authorities at both national and regional levels.
In Latin America and Asia, periods of strong agricultural growth have been marked by the establishment of programs to promote improved technologies, training services, sound water and soil management, and strong market linkages.
In fact, this discrepancy between intention and practice largely explains the underperformance noted above.
The Chair "Modernisation of African Agriculture", supported by FERDI, aims to build the basis of a strategy to encourage the strengthening of agricultural entrepreneurship, from the village farmers and stockbreeders to the processing and marketing of agri-industries, by including in the research international investors and stakeholders in public/private partnerships.
The Chair will mobilise the expertise required to publish reference documents in which the issues below will be developed and discussed. In parallel, it will organise a series of workshops and conferences to facilitate changes in behaviour and public policy.
The recent crises have only reinforced the need to ensure food sovereignty. Most of this sovereignty can be achieved through the development of more abundant and competitive local production that is able to meet the demand of national markets. The structuring of the production and processing sectors is one of the levers for the development of the agricultural sector. This structuring would require, among other things, strong reinvestment in research and training, facilitating the rational use of irrigation water, and developing agricultural choices adapted to ecosystems.
Decarbonization requires developing supply chains for non-chemical inputs, but also working towards energy autonomy in the rural world, particularly through renewable energy sources. Without an ambitious policy in this area, it will not be possible to get agriculture and livestock farming off the ground.
To achieve this, it is necessary to foster the establishment of partnerships around coherent sets of activities. The structuring of value chains, from animal or plant genetics to marketing, is essential to improve the performance of millions of small-scale producers and livestock breeders in Africa, to improve their resilience and their entrepreneurial capacity, and to make them more responsible for their own development. To contribute to this structuring, it is necessary to work towards the establishment of stronger and fairer contractual relations between independent producers, their cooperatives and agribusinesses.
One of the challenges is to better train African agricultural actors to adapt to climate change, to achieve the agri-ecological transition, and to fight against extreme poverty in rural areas. It is therefore necessary to act first at the level of the farmer. To do this, it is essential, in addition to university systems, to promote the development of the professionalism of rural actors through flexible technical and training systems that are as close to the field as possible.
Generally, public funds mobilized to support private investments in Africa are not sufficiently focused on the agricultural and livestock sectors. When they do exist, these funds are channelled through States, with the risk of slowness and loss in implementation. In any case, they rarely benefit private operators directly. Some financial institutions and investment funds may be interested in agriculture, but, with rare exceptions, their interventions are required to achieve high levels of profitability over the short term, often periods of 5 to 7 years, which are incompatible with the risks of agriculture and livestock farming and with the long time needed to develop projects. To ensure that the investment needs of the actors concerned, from upstream to downstream of the value chains, are better financed, it is therefore proposed to study the feasibility of creating a specific permanent vehicle, managed by a private operator, entirely dedicated to the financing of the start-up and development of production structures, particularly SMEs. This instrument should be endowed with all the necessary resources, including concessions, so as to be able to respond to the specific risks of this sector over sufficiently long periods of intervention. This instrument would thus make it possible to de-risk (through a flexible mix of grant and loan resources) certain investments that are highly relevant but that would have a slow return on investment, or would not be made without this support.
The subject of the modernisation of African agriculture by this Chair will be dealt with in a multidisciplinary manner, drawing on the various issues covered at FERDI: Impact of development policies, evaluation of productivity and competitiveness factors, digital innovations, macroeconomic modelling, assessment of vulnerabilities and adaptation to the effects of climate change, etc.
Jean-Marc GRAVELLINI, Head of the Chair, former Director General of the Sahel Alliance, former Director of Operations at the French Development Agency
Catherine ARAUJO BONJEAN, Researcher at the CNRS, CERDI, Scientific Advisor of the Chair
Bagoré BATHILY, Managing Director of La Laiterie du Berger, a Senegalese company whose mission is to reduce poverty in Senegal by using local know-how and improving the living conditions of livestock farmers, will be the African Focal Point for the Chair