Agriculture is an important conduit for Africa to move out of poverty, and African countries need to make changes from within if they are to improve their economies through agriculture, according to Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Speaking recently at the Africa and the Agriculture for Development Agenda session of the 2007 World Bank Annual Meetings, Sirleaf said being an agrarian society, Africa should “give agriculture its rightful role if it wants to move on to an emerging economy.”
The session was a follow-up to the launch of the 2008 World Development Report: Agriculture for Development. The report’s main message: agriculture is fundamental to sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa where 417 million rural people live in agriculture-based countries.
The report identifies agriculture as a lead sector for overall growth, observing that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth originating in agriculture is about four times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth originating outside the sector.
The report identifies three functions of agriculture: a trigger of overall growth, a source of livelihoods, and a way of better managing natural resources and the environment.
According to Sirleaf, there is a need for clear and transparent policies to help effect change in agriculture, citing such areas as land tenure, and shifts in education to emphasize the sector.
She applauded the WDR as providing “positive indicators on how to effect change for positive development.”
The report calls for an ‘agriculture for development’ agenda for Africa that will improve the investment climate as well as make optimal use of markets, technology, sustainable water and soil management, and institution services.
In addition, countries must deliver on such issues as a level playing field for trade, while farmer organizations and other local groups need more say in setting policies.
“Policy still matters,” said Karen Brooks, the World Bank’s Africa region sector manager for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Speaking at the same session, Brooks said improving public expenditure management which affects agriculture is one area where the Bank will put more emphasis as it works with governments. Brooks lamented that both African governments and donors have not adequately invested in agriculture.
The 2008 WDR notes that governments in sub-Saharan Africa spend far less on agriculture compared to the 11-14 percent share of national budgets invested in agriculture that fueled the Asian green revolution.
The report also notes that the share of official development assistance going to the sector in developing countries is only four percent.
While Sirleaf urged poor countries to make the necessary changes within, the WDR calls on rich countries to amend policies that harm the poor, an indication that complementary efforts are needed to help Africa sail out of poverty through agriculture.
For rich countries, the report says it is vital to reduce subsidies that hinder African cotton exports, and as major contributors to global warming, rich countries need to do more to help the poor farmers adapt to climate change.