How to Achieve a Green Revolution in Africa

Excerpts from the conclusion of theAfrican Agriculture Status Report 2013, published by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa:

The persistence of low levels of agricultural production, increased food insecurity, unstable agricultural prices and increasing costs of inputs contribute to the challenges facing African agriculture.

Even though these challenges are worldwide, for Africa, where farming is dominated by small holders, most of them women — these could mean losing the gains in achieving the Millennium Development Goals — specifically being unable to feed the population adequately.

Ensuring a food secure and prosperous Africa in a sustainable way requires a unique Green Revolution where increased agricultural productivity is guaranteed through investments in research and technology, infrastructure, as well as providing the enabling environment for the private sector, including farmers to promote agribusiness.

It will require rethinking agriculture to involve a value chain approach from the supply or production side to demand or the consumption side. Investing in agricultural value chains that address the constraints and vulnerabilities faced by the farmers, especially the resource poor is paramount.

Institutions for linking farmers to input and output markets should ensure that the farmers have adequate, appropriate, affordable and timely inputs, as well as knowledge on appropriate agronomic practices and technology packages that will enhance productivity in an environmentally sustainable way. At the same time, mechanisms for minimizing the transaction costs in accessing domestic, regional or international markets should be in place.

Productivity related issues addressed in this report show varied success levels on a country by country case. It is evident that the interventions pursued by the countries are not misguided. However, much more still needs to be done to ensure success of a unique Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Attention needs to be focussed on investing in research and technology and to provide the enabling environment for adoption of the technologies to close the existing yield gaps for almost all commodities.

Linking farmers to input and output markets must be given priority as well.

Given the inherent complexity of land tenure systems, the limited capacity of the state, and the cost of tenure reform, the need to monitor and learn from progress made with land reforms in the region, and to redirect policy design and implementation cannot be overemphasized… A secure land tenure arrangement provides farmers with the incentive in sustainable productivity increasing measures, including environmental conservation.

Addressing the soil infertility problem is important in addressing food insecurity in Africa. This can be achieved through appropriate fertilizer use and other integrated soil fertility management technologies. However there are challenges of high cost of quality fertilizer and inability of smallholder farmers to obtain sufficient quantities of organic matter to improve soil health. Farmers should be linked to value chain actors to access credit to enable purchase and application of appropriate fertilizer and other inputs in a timely manner.

Ensuring that the smallholder farmer is equipped with affordable improved seeds, agronomic practices, and technology packages, as well as affordable financing, will lead to increased crop production beyond subsistence.

As farmers achieve surplus production, there is need to guarantee access to the right markets for the surplus. In order for the smallholder farmer to sell at a good price, it is necessary to bulk. This enables them to have bargaining power as well as sell when the market is right. It is therefore important to support farmer organizations by providing capacity building initiatives that will lead to competitive farmer organizations.

A good investment climate for agriculture is a cornerstone in these efforts. Enabling environment for the actors in the agricultural commodity value chains must include research and technology as well as promotion of innovation platforms. Improved infrastructure, information and communication technologies institutions, as well as access to input and output markets, reduce the transaction costs.

These improvements create the environment to undertake agriculture as a business and facilitate the transformation of the sector from being dominated by subsistence production to commercial orientation. The need to invest in agro-processing and value addition is critical in transforming the agriculture sector that hitherto relies mainly on marketing of primary products.

For any meaningful transformation to be sustained it is important to reform and strengthen the capacities of the regulatory institutions of government. Government institutions must be strengthened and incentivized to enact, implement and regulate policies that support productivity growth. A public – private partnership approach to investment, taking into account the competitive advantages of the actors along the value chain should be promoted.

Transforming African agriculture by improving output markets and building effective market institutions is critical.

The efficient grain marketing systems, which effectively absorb surplus grain, especially at harvest, are important in maintaining remunerative producer prices which will drive sustained growth in grain output and productivity in Africa and contribute to attainment of pro-poor, agriculture- based growth and development goals…

Governments' frustration with effects of inefficiencies in grain output markets tends to encourage ad hoc market interventions sometimes mirroring the "controls of the past." These interventions have often proved costly, undermined market development and weakened producer incentives.

The way forward is in sustained investments by governments, donors and private sector players in a public- private partnership fashion to develop market institutions that complement each other and foster efficient trade…

Rural women are important actors in Africa's smallholder agriculture, making up almost 50 percent of the agricultural labor force; yet they face severe obstacles to production and participation in value chains. Unequal access to agricultural land is one of the most severe obstacles women face. Land ownership is an essential leverage point for accessing credit or making long-term investments in productivity. Investing in women increases overall production, especially if women have fairer and better access to markets and extension services.

Closing gender gaps requires concerted efforts by policy makers, development practitioners, private sector and civil society organizations, given the multi-faceted and complex nature of Africa's smallholder agriculture.

Policy interventions and development responses that remove barriers to women's access to productive inputs and agricultural services (including extension and financial services) will generate substantial productivity gains for women.

Policy interventions that increase incentives for greater involvement of women in agricultural research and higher education could help close the technology gap with more effective alignment of technology innovation to the specific interests and needs of women as well as men in the production arena.

Mainstreaming gender-responsive projects appears the most strategic way to effectively address women's needs and improve their socio-economic status alongside those of their male counterparts across agriculture value chains.