Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ethiopia/AU: Africa must provide enough food for consumption, export (Feature by Anaclet Rwegayura, PANA Correspondent)

Ethiopia/AU: Africa must provide enough food for consumption, export (Feature by Anaclet Rwegayura, PANA Correspondent)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) - Africa’s ambition in agriculture, according to the African Union (AU), is to produce enough food to feed its growing population and become a leading exporter of good food.

However, analysts say if the continent is ever to begin a journey toward that goal, the time to do so is now.

While Africa takes pride in its appetising food varieties, it does not produce enough to meet the needs of local consumers and it is yet to capitalise on this resource endowment.

This explains why African leaders have underlined collective actions across the continent focused on improving agricultural planning and policies, scaling up investment and harmonising external support around African-owned agricultural plans.

They have recognised that enhanced agricultural performance is key to growth and poverty reduction through its direct impact on job creation and increasing economic opportunities, especially for women and the bulging youthful population.

Furthermore, improved agriculture would have strong linkages with other activities related to food security and improved nutrition.

As a commodity, food requires processing even for a simple meal. Processing is part and parcel of industrialisation but Africa’s industrial enterprises have largely been weak and inconsistent.

Should Africa keep on exporting raw commodities, food included, when developing countries of other regions are exploiting globalisation by supplying the world market with intermediate and final products?

Since the answer to that poser is surely a resounding no, then it is time this continent set itself on a new path of development that places commodity-based industrialisation at the centre stage.

African soft-commodity (food) processing should open up major possibilities for value addition, but it requires large and resource-intensive interventions to expand and upgrade agricultural output, according to recent studies on the continent’s economic transformation.

In the view of the AU and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), these interventions will create multiple opportunities and economies of scale for developing backward linkages, related to local production of inputs such as fertilisers, small capital equipment and spare parts as well as business support services.

Africa has over the past decade raised the profile of its agriculture through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

“CAADP experience has demonstrated that Africa as a region has a well-crafted, home-grown framework guiding policies, strategies and actions for agricultural development and transformation,” the AU Commission (AUC) maintains.

Through this experience, the Commission has mobilised and aligned multi-stakeholder partnerships and investments around national agriculture and food security investment plans.

In marking 2014 as Africa’s Year of Agriculture and Food Security, the world is anxious to see this continent going the right way to food security.

Political and business leaders as well as cultural activists need to start the right talk with their people about food security, so that together they can address the very real concerns about food production and environmental conservation in their localities.

At the end of the year, each African country should provide believable data, not just about stockpiles of food harvested during this period, but also regarding their score on elimination of cases of underweight children, undernourishment of children and adults – especially expectant mothers – and food price affordability for the general public.

Food producers and marketers now have a good base from which they can expand business beyond national borders, taking into account the youthful population of consumers across the African continent.

Governments need to back their ambitions and endeavours to the hilt, especially in the 34 countries that have signed the CAADP compacts to date.

New investments should be appropriately directed to crops where countries have a comparative advantage in production so that they can fare well in international competition.

“The performance of African agriculture has been encouraging – with annual agricultural GDP growth having averaged nearly 4 per cent since 2003,” said the AUC, adding, “On average public agricultural expenditures have risen by over 7 percent per year across Africa since 2003, nearly doubling public agricultural expenditures since the launch of CAADP.”

This should give African investors searching for yield the incentive and the confidence to vigorously look for more lucrative opportunities in agro-industries.

Success-bound countries should move into higher value added activities of commodity processing, marketing and distribution.

Once firms enter the global value chain, they have to meet very demanding market requirements of price, quality and lead times. Technical standards are crucial when the markets are Europe, the United States or Japan.

The 2013 Economic Report on Africa, jointly published by the ECA and the AU, pointed out that assistance from the firms driving global value chains becomes very important to support local upgrading.

For instance, Kenya’s fresh vegetable exporters and Ghana’s cocoa processors receive support from their global buyers in technical and non-technical areas, yet this is the exception rather than the rule.

A key finding in the report was that regional and domestic markets offer opportunities for value-added products.

Nigerian cocoa processing firms have found regional and domestic markets for confectioneries and beverages. Cameroon’s chocolate manufacturers and Ethiopian roasted coffee firms supply domestic retailers.

Looking for buyers is a costly exercise for any firm but critical for a firm that wants to join a global value chain.

Therefore, economists suggest, local firms attempting to move into higher value added products need government support, as those firms that succeed can provide information and channels for other domestic firms.

-0- PANA AR/SEG 20Jan2014