AU tips on improving agric production on the continent

Poor infrastructure and lack of agriculture finance are some of the major challenges facing African farmers. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the African Union (AU) commissioner for rural economy and agriculture, who was in Kigali last week, says these problems must be addressed if the continent is to increase agriculture production and create jobs for unemployed youth.
Tumusiime addresses reporters in Kigali last week. (Timothy Kisambira)
Tumusiime addresses reporters in Kigali last week. (Timothy Kisambira)

Poor infrastructure and lack of agriculture finance are some of the major challenges facing African farmers. Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the African Union (AU) commissioner for rural economy and agriculture, who was in Kigali last week, says these problems must be addressed if the continent is to increase agriculture production and create jobs for unemployed youth.

Tumusiime also told Business Times Peterson Tumwebaze how African governments can attract the private sector to invest in agriculture, a move that would help reduce food importation on the continent.

What is the African Union doing to support agriculture on the continent?

For Africa to strengthen its position in the global arena, it must be food secure. The continent must therefore find ways to increase crop productivity to be able to feed itself and drive its own economic development agenda.

This is how Africa will be respected on the global stage… However, African governments must commit to supporting the agriculture sector to enhance its capacity so that it is able to drive growth and provide jobs for our young people.

It’s been 10 years since the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) was adopted in Maputo, but there is little to show...

Under the Maputo Declaration, African governments committed themselves to support the agriculture industry by allocating at least 10 per cent of their national budget to the sector to spur its growth.

Presently, many countries have doubled their investments in agriculture, but very few if any have met this requirement. However, we have come from very far, where some countries were allocating just 2 per cent of their budget to the sector. Today, a few have increased agriculture budgetary allocations to 8 per cent, which is some progress.

The continent still spends more than $40 billion annually on food imports, does this mean the plan has failed?

Food importation is still high and, that’s why we are saying that we can actually invest this money in the sector, improve output and reduce food imports.

However, there are other challenges countries must deal with to make this a reality. Despite the fact that some countries are food secure, moving food from one region or country to another it is still hard because there is still no concrete infrastructure to link the continent. Intra-African trade is also still low due to numerous trade barriers in many countries. So, governments should commit to the set goals and target the ‘real’ players in the agriculture sector if we are to move the sector to the next level.

We have been looking at the farmers, but we met challenges along the way because the value chain was not complete. So bringing on board the private sector is a key component that could help improve the continent’s agro-productivity. We need to organise them within the CAADP framework and ensure that all players in the value chain in agribusiness do their part.

Few banks are willing to lend to farming businesses, won’t this affect private sector participation?

This has been a big challenge…for banks to look at agriculture as risky is sometimes exaggerated. I think we can overcome this hurdle by organising farmers in groups and encourage insurance to make it secure for banks to lend to farmers. It’s unfortunate that banks mobilise resources from people and instead of investing in farming communities; they fund consumables.

What is the AU doing about this?

We are not developing a roadmap for the private sector, but we want to give the direction depending on what they want and the challenges they face. We are also mobilising resources and continue to lobby for them so that they complement governments’ efforts to improve the sector and make it more productive.

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A farmer harvests cassava. Africa still faces food shortages.(Timothy Kisambira)

What is your view about governments setting up agro-banks?

This should be driven by strong government policies… in countries where there are agriculture-related banks, things are working. However, where these banks don’t exist, they have to have targeted policies to mandate development banks to support farming activities. Commercial banks must also ensure they have to develop products targeting farmers.

How can governments attract youth into the sector?

Governments need to setup incubation centres for value-addition of agro-produce so that youth can play a central part in the development agenda of our countries. There is also need to have a structured approach on how to support youth projects. We must put them at the centre of, not only production, but also processing and marketing of agribusiness products because they have been in production for a long time.

What is the relationship between rural infrastructure development and agro production?

Marketing infrastructure is critical and one of the priority areas governments must focus on. Unless you have roads, especially feeder roads, railways, storage facilities and ready and sustainable markets, the agro industry will continue struggling.

What is your view about creating of townships in rural areas to make way for commercial farming?

Promotion large-scale farming has been on the table for a long time, with research done on the same. However, we need to understand that if small-scale farmers are organised, they will be able to increase production if they adapt modern farming methods.

That’s important because subsistence farming has no place in today’s world.

How should the challenge of climate change be addressed on the continent?

Climate change has become a serious issue on the continent and needs concerted efforts to address it. We must also adjust the way we carry out farming activities, for example. The African Union is playing its role on this issue and, hopefully, individual governments will put in mechanisms to promote sustainable agriculture production, among other measures. Also, agricultural and infrastructure strategies must be ‘climate smart’ to promote approaches that ease challenges brought about by global warming and climate change.

How do you rate Rwanda in championing CAADP project?

Kigali gives us incentives because they have paved the way and they are leaders on a number of issues. We are happy with how Rwanda has taken up the CAADP initiative; we urge other countries to emulate this great example.

business@newtimes.co.rw

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