As countries across sub-Saharan Africa grapple with the challenges of sustaining high levels of economic growth, plunging commodity prices, and the effects of climate change, revitalizing agriculture must become a priority on the continent.
The latest World Bank report warns that anemic recovery in emerging markets will weigh heavily on global growth prospects. Its 2016 growth forecast for sub-Saharan Africa stands at 4.2 percent, up from 3.4 percent in 2015.
A vibrant, sustainable and resilient agriculture sector is vital for sub-Saharan Africa’s economic future. Indeed, African agriculture stands at the cusp of transformational change. The numbers are compelling:
Farming is the primary source of food and income for Africans and provides up to 60 percent of all jobs on the continent.
Food production in sub-Saharan Africa needs to increase by 60 percent over the next 15 years to feed a growing population. Africa’s food and beverage markets are buoyant and expected to top $1 trillion in value by 2030.
The continent is bursting with potential: At 200 million hectares, sub-Saharan Africa is home to nearly half of the world’s uncultivated land that can be brought into production. Africa uses only 2 percent of its renewable water resources compared to 5 percent globally. Together with abundant resources, including a resourceful, enterprising youth population, strategic investments in agriculture can unleash virtuous growth cycles. How can Africa, then, capitalize on these opportunities?
First, African farmers need new technology—higher-yielding, more resilient food crops that deliver bountiful harvests. New techniques are beginning to boost yields in rice and cocoa, among other crops. Second, African farmers need more electricity, more irrigation, and better infrastructure that links them to lucrative regional food markets. Third, we need sound policies that do not discriminate against the farm sector. Women produce the bulk of food in Africa, and yet they are largely locked out of land ownership, access to credit, and productive farm inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and farming tools. Further, they are often bypassed by extension services, limiting their productivity.
At the just-concluded climate talks in Paris, the World Bank unveiled a bold new plan that calls for $16 billion in funding to help Africa adapt to climate change and enhance the continent’s resilience to climate shocks, including a focus on climate-smart agriculture and supporting the vision for accelerated agricultural transformation of the Malabo Declaration.
As policymakers struggle to accelerate growth and tackle prevailing headwinds, it is worth noting that the agriculture sector has been shown to be two to four times more effective than other sectors in raising incomes among the poorest people.
Banking on African agriculture is an idea whose time has come.