Progress and Challenges in Strengthening African Agriculture

by Ousmane Badiane

For the first time, Africans are implementing a comprehensive, African-driven plan to strengthen their agricultural sectors, in which most Africans earn their livelihoods. This plan has a chance at real success in reducing poverty and improving human well-being if African institutions and policymakers, as well as their development partners, can effectively negotiate the challenges that face them at this point in the plan’s implementation.

The African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU/NEPAD) sees higher, sustained agricultural growth as a key component in spurring economic development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals across the continent. As a consequence, AU/NEPAD, with the help of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, has developed the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). The program has set a goal of 6 percent annual growth for the agricultural sector over the next decade. It is articulated around four main pillars dealing with natural resources, agribusiness and trade, hunger and nutrition, and science and technology. In addition to committing themselves to improve political and economic governance as part of the broader NEPAD agenda, African heads of state pledged in the 2003 Maputo Declaration to increase allocations for agriculture to 10 percent of their national budgets within five years. Several countries have already started increasing the share of agriculture in their budgets.

It was decided at the outset that Africa’s regional economic communities and their member countries would implement programs under NEPAD. The AU/NEPAD Secretariat therefore had to find a process for effectively transferring the ownership and leadership of the implementation process to these regional economic communities. After a slow start, the Secretariat has made significant progress over the past eight months. With assistance from IFPRI, it has developed and implemented a road map to speed up implementation of the CAADP agenda. The road map emphasizes the role of the Secretariat as a facilitator and a mobilizer of resources and places the bulk of the implementation process at the regional and national levels.

In the wake of five regional planning meetings between January and April 2005, a May 2005 summit in Accra, Ghana, and a series of consultations with the Group of Eight (G8) countries and other leading development partners, the CAADP implementation process has now reached a stage where it can be rapidly scaled up. The regional economic communities and their member countries have firmly taken ownership of the implementation process. All major regions have identified priority investment programs, including a set of early actions to be implemented by December 2006. They have agreed upon basic principles and procedures for implementation and governance. The agribusiness and farming communities have been brought into the process. Finally, the credibility of the implementation process has been established among development partners, including G8 leaders, who have endorsed CAADP as a framework for providing assistance to agriculture in Africa.

Despite this significant progress, several key challenges remain. The regional economic communities must effectively coordinate the implementation process, starting with speedy implementation of the early action agenda. National governments must meet the pledges of increased funding and improved governance for the agricultural sector, align their national strategies with the CAADP objectives, establish effective partnerships with the private sector, and integrate the smallholder sector in the implementation process. The regional economic communities and their member countries will need to set up systems for peer review, monitoring and evaluation, and knowledge management. Finally, countries will need to align long-term development assistance to agriculture with CAADP objectives. The most critical step now is to rapidly implement the early action agenda in order to test the capacity of the regional economic communities to coordinate the process, the commitment of national governments to do business more effectively, and the willingness of development partners to align assistance with African priorities.

In the medium to long run, other challenges will arise. National governments will have to deal with the need to intensify cross-border trade and advance the integration of regional agricultural markets. Development partners will have to address the need to liberalize international agricultural policies and create a conducive environment for agricultural growth in Africa. A continuation of global agricultural protectionism would undermine the long-term success of the CAADP agenda and severely limit returns to assistance to African agriculture.

These challenges are significant, but they should be manageable, and if African countries and their development partners can meet them, it may be their best chance in decades to make a substantial improvement in the lives of millions of poor Africans.

Ousmane Badiane is the Africa coordinator for the International Food Policy Research Institute.