Following yesterday's 4th EU-Africa Summit, which emphasised the importance of agriculture as an engine of economic growth, ministers, experts and investors met today (Friday) at the invitation of CTA (the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Affairs) to discuss how African agriculture can be transformed, in order to make a greater contribution to the continent's economic prospects.
Tanzania's Minister of Industry and Trade, Hon. Abdallah Kigoda, who was representing President Kikwete, told the high-level panel that the issue of transforming African agriculture is "critical."
"Agriculture contributes a sizeable proportion of Africa's GDP and it accounts for a sizeable portion of the country's foreign earnings. If we can boost agricultural growth, we will have a better chance to obtain more robust economic growth and eradicate poverty."
He pointed out that agriculture accounts for 25 per cent of Tanzania's GDP and produces 34 per cent of its export earnings - "so the economic growth and well-being of Tanzania are both dependent on agriculture."
"The transformation of agriculture is an achievable undertaking," he said. "There is a growing global consensus to assist Africa to transform its agriculture."
The African Union's Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, HE Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, emphasised the importance of the role of agriculture in achieving the African Union's '2063 Vision' for a "transformed continent."
"Agriculture is so important in the setting of the African agenda," she said, pointing out that the African Union's 2063 Vision of an integrated, prosperous, transformed continent is based on agriculture-led growth.
"Investing in agriculture is one of the most effective ways to achieve food security and drive inclusive growth," she said. "The agriculture sector employs 65 - 70 per cent of the African workforce. It accounts for about a third of the continent's GDP. There is a fast-growing regional food market which is being fuelled by population growth and rapid urbanisation. Agriculture holds great promise for broad-based economic growth and job creation."
Michael Hailu, the Director of CTA said:
"In recent years, there has been a lot of optimism about Africa Rising.
With the majority of the world's fastest growing economies, increasing foreign investment, less conflict and more democracies than at any other time in the continent's history, the optimism is well-justified.
"However, we still face major challenges. Among these is the fact that agriculture remains an unattractive option for many of our young people in rural areas.
"To absorb some of the 11 million young people entering the labour market every year in Africa, agriculture must become a growth sector, a source of prosperity and a global business. As agriculture is modernised, many new specialised jobs are created... jobs that are particularly well-suited to well-trained youth. But it must capture their imagination. And to do this, we must transform the image of agriculture from a low-paying, tedious occupation to one that is profitable, modern and respectable."
He emphasised that a major priority was attracting investment into agriculture.
"Through the CAADP process, encouraging progress has been made in mobilising domestic and international resources (both financial and technical) in support of agricultural investments.
"However, a lot more needs to be done to transform African agriculture to a more profitable and sustainable pathway. Real change in African agriculture depends not only on improved seeds and additional fertilisers. It requires greater investment in research and innovation so that more of Africa's agricultural growth comes from productivity increase rather than land expansion.
"It also depends on integrating smallholders into value chains, on access to finance, on sustainable management of natural resources and on creating an enabling environment for smallholder agriculture to grow and flourish, with strong institutions in place to support it."
Senior representatives of private sector companies, involved in the provision of agricultural services and financial solutions, were enthusiastic about the prospects for new business in Africa's growing agricultural sector.
"Africa will develop and is developing. The EU sees the benefit of the public-private partnership, which African agriculture has to have. There are huge opportunities and we will seize them," said Jorgen Haslestad, President and CEO of Yara, a Norwegian company with a global presence, which delivers solutions for sustainable agriculture.
The Panel was followed by a special event in the Palais d'Egmont in Brussels to celebrate CTA's thirtieth anniversary.
"We are proud to celebrate three decades of service to agricultural and rural development in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific," says Michael Hailu. "We decided to mark this important milestone by applauding the invaluable support the European Union and the ACP Group of States have given to CTA over the years as well as by recognising the contribution of our many partners in our efforts to advance food security, prosperity and sustainable resource management across the ACP."
To mark its anniversary, CTA also launched a book entitled 'Stories of Change: Transforming Lives through Agricultural and Rural Development,' which highlights the CTA's achievements and the impact the organisation has had on transforming the prospects of people working in agriculture in ACP countries during the past three decades.