Thirty billion dollars’ worth of commitment was the number on everyone’s lips as Africa green revolution forum was concluded. Development partners and governments pledged over 30 billion US dollars in investments to intensify production and employment for small scale farmers who constitute over 60% of the continent’s populations and all this will be achieved over the next ten years.
The commitments this time round were described as “unprecedented” and were a long time coming for a continent with the lion’ share of arable land on the globe but which still relies on food imports from Asia. Africa burns at least $35 billion on food imports annually and her terrible storage record ensures she loses another $4 billion in food waste.
The famous Seize the Moment campaign coined by NEPAD, the African Union and the African Development Bank is definitely paying dividends with the Forum's host, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta kicking off the formalities with a commitment to invest $200 million to guarantee market access to 150,000 young farmers.
USAID which has already invested more than $6.6 billion in global food security and nutrition efforts through its Feed the Future initiative was quick to implore investors and donors to be bold and do their part to achieve A Food-Secure 2030.
The African Development Bank pledged US $24 billion over the next ten years, a 400 percent increase over previous commitments, to help drive agricultural transformation in Africa. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to contribute at least US $5 billion to African development over the next five years. The Rockefeller Foundation pledged $180 million with the contribution including US $50 million beyond the US $105 million already invested in AGRA and its partners over the last ten years.
Clearly everyone had their cheque book in Nairobi!
So what is different?
Modestly, the private sector seems to be coming to the party this time round. What do I mean? Many a time the million dollar commitments have barely make it to the small scale farmer 300 kilometers from the city. The colossal grants go to the farmers who cultivate square miles, have automated combine harvesters and whose children busk in eccentric Montessori Kindergartens.
This time, I was moved by commitments like those of potato processing companies to buy 600 metric tons of potatoes per month to benefit local farmers. This initiative trickles down to the subsistence farmer tilling a mere plot. As I always argue, agriculture has to be broad based and not region based as many African countries have done in the past.
The road remains blurred though. Importation of what we can produce has become a Sub Saharan norm; East Africa imports $35 billion worth of rice annually according to AGRA President Dr Agnes Kalibata.
Nigeria takes the prize on the import front as the West African giant is the biggest importer of tomato paste in the world while over 75% of freshly grown tomatoes go to waste. Low fertiliser and irrigation penetration has ensured cyclical yields on the continent.
In 2014, a World Bank study found that around two-thirds of small-scale farmers surveyed in Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda did not use chemical fertilizers. One can only wonder what could have been if governments came through on their election campaign promises.