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Experts seek increased investments in Africa’s agric devt

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Africa hosted the virtual summit of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Kigali, Rwanda, where participants, who included government representatives, exchanged ideas on how  to boost food production. DANIEL ESSIET reports.

Participants from United States, Europe, and African Union (AU) at virtual conference of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) held in Kigali, Rwanda have called for measures to increase food production and across borders in the short and long term.

The AGRF is a platform for global and African leaders to develop actionable plans that will move African agriculture forward.They stressed that it was critical member states of Africa Union (AU) strengthened their food systems to help the agricultural sector recover from the impact of COVID-19 through initiatives focused on innovation, financing, technology, partnerships and new levels of regional and global collaboration and information sharing.

The Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation, Mr William Asiko, who maintained that the closure of markets during the lockdowns occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic showed the fragility and lack of resilience of African urban cities in terms of the food chain.

Asiko said Africa has real work to do to build food resilience as the COVID pandemic also exposed the fragility of the continent’s transportation.

He said: “The challenge of maintaining social distancing in open-air markets left the government with no option but to shut them down. But that was also not tenable and we now must work to create modern market facilities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of strengthening local agricultural production. We have enough resources in the continent to sustain all our food needs.’’

Asiko called for public-private partnerships in resolving the problem of hunger in Africa’s cities, “so policymakers should come together as we need private sector involvement”.

The Managing Director, African Green Revolution Forum, AGRF, Adebisi Araba, said the flooding experienced in some part of Nigeria recently has shown that resilience is a journey. He said Nigeria needs the right policy framework on climate, “what happened in Kebbi State where rice farms were washed away reminds me of what happened eight years ago.”

Araba said Nigeria needs to build resilience by insuring the smallholder farmers,”we need to ensure that we factor insurance into agriculture input like seeds and fertiliser.”

He added that farmers need to be connected to markets as that would give them the confidence to plant in peace. Araba wants the youth to look at agriculture as a profitable business sector. “Agriculture is not something you do when all else has failed,” he said.”

Agribusiness is complicated, and that’s why it needs serious, business-minded people who are dedicated and intelligent to make a success of it,” he said.

During the programme, Tony Blair Institute (TBI) announced new Agribusiness Investment Facilitation Programme to step up agribusiness support to African governments.

The new programme aims to bring in investors to match flagship projects and greenfield priorities of governments, while also supporting local small and medium (SMEs) and AgTech. It will focus on ensuring engagement between investors and the highest level of government, working together to identify and develop demand for investment; and providing support to large operators and investors which can answer governments’ priorities and identified market needs.

Announcing the new programme in a session at the ARGF Deal Room ‘Results Factory’event, TBI Senior Adviser for AgriFood Investment Lloyd Le Page said: “We work in 15 countries in Africa, and on agriculture in most of these, because agriculture transformation is a key focus on every government’s mind.

”We recognise that it is indeed a game-changing year for African agriculture and the importance of providing food to the $250billion market in the rapidly rising African cities has never been starker or more pressing.

“Together with governments and Development Finance Institutions, we explore and support the co-development of strategic catalytic investments that will release blockages in agricultural value chain investment.

”Examples of these include development corridors, irrigation schemes, agro-processing and food manufacture, and agribusiness parks.

”With support from AGRA and USAID, we’ve provided support over a period of months to six governments: Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Nigeria to prepare for their engagement in this year’s AGRF Deal Room.This required extensive coordination within and across countries, as well as project preparation, and pitch development.

”TBI plans to expand advisory and delivery, year-round, to support governments, across different ministries and agencies, including investment promotion and key economic agencies, through the life of the project, from design to closure and aftercare.”

During session entitled: “Expanding the Universe of Investment-Ready Agribusinesses”, speakers at the session affirmed that African agriculture has immense opportunities that remain unexplored for lack of proper structures and dedicated investments to support agribusinesses.

“We need investments in everything that touches on agriculture. We must realise that without good roads, seeds and animal breeds, it is hard to lower the cost of production and compete with other countries in the export market,” said the Vice-Minister for Agriculture & Rural Development of Mozambique, Dr. Olegário dos Anjos Banze.

An Investment Officer at Accion Venture Lab, Nigeria, Ashley Lewis, noted that by formalising their enterprises, African farmers would attract valuable investents. “There is an opportunity to create value, have exits and have a venture capital story in agriculture,” she said.

A member of Global Farmer Network, Patience Egba-koku, said access to technology is the key to how food is produced in Africa.   She said she had started experimentation of BT cotton and cowpea on her farm in Nigeria, noting that with the new genetically-modified Pod Borer Resistant cowpea variety, commercialised as SAMPEA-20-T, that they have just sprayed pesticides to control stem borer and the fall armyworm that are ravaging farms once.

She said to get farmers access technology that there was a need for a policy that would create a good environment for technology to thrive and also proper regulations.

”We need to also convince the farmers on what they stand to benefit from embracing technology. We need the private sector to be involved, because if there is no provider, who will help the farmers have access to technologies?” she added.

She said climate change also compounded farming as the rain started early and ended abruptly.

“We need improved seeds, irrigation, mechanisation because we can no longer rely on food import.

“If we continue to rely on food import, we may have a problem as the COVID-19 has shown,” she said.

A major highlight of the event was the announcement of  Dr. André Bationo and Dr. Catherine Nakalembe  as winners of the Africa Food Prize (AFP) for promoting food security across the continent. Bationo, a researcher from Burkina Faso, was recognised for his efforts in the improving micro-dosing fertiliser technology.

Bationo has also scaled-up an inventory credit system which allows farmers to store grain and receive a credit when prices are low, thus selling their product when prices are higher. The micro-dosing technology and inventory credit systems are already benefitting farmers in West Africa – from the villages in Niger where Bationo first implemented these innovations to the wider regions.

Nakalembe, a Ugandan researcher, was honoured for her dedication to assisting smallholder farmers by using satellite technology to harness data to guide agricultural decision-making. Her work in this area has helped prevent potentially disastrous impacts of crop failure. Congratulating the winners, Chair, Africa Food Prize Committee and former Nigeria’s President,  Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, emphasised that the efforts of the duo reinforces the call for a simultaneous productivity push and policy pull to transform farming from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives.

”We need innovative Africans like Dr. Bationo and Dr. Nakalembe to demonstrate the potential of new knowledge and technology together with practical technologies that help improve the value proposition for farmers. These two are indeed exceptional Africans,” he said.The Africa Food Prize exists to reward pioneering efforts to overcome obstacles across the agriculture value chain including limited access to high quality agricultural inputs, difficulties in accessing markets as well as the negative impact of climate change.  Over 10,000 people from 152 countries participated in the AGRF2020.

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