Despite agriculture employing more than 80 per cent of the African population, the continent generates only 10 per cent of global agricultural output.
Yet another shocking reality is that Africa still spends $35 billion a year on importing food, despite having a quarter of the world’s arable land, according to latest findings from the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, said the money Africa spends on food imports would have been used to create more and improved jobs in agriculture.
Nwanze, who is expected to be part of the ongoing sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which opens today in Nairobi, Kenya, is expected to tell African leaders that the potential for prosperity on the continent is enormous, but investments need to be redirected to developing the agricultural sector.
“African leaders are failing their people by their weak investments in agricultural inputs and infrastructure, and their lack of policy support for the sector,” said Nwanze in a statement.
“If even a portion of the money used for food imports was spent on creating jobs in rural areas, not only would the world’s largest youth population see a viable future on the continent, but Africa would be able to feed itself,” he said.
Convened by Japan, the purpose of TICAD is to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and partners, with a focus on African-led development.
This is the first time that TICAD will be held on the African continent. The conference will run until August 28.
Although Africa is the world’s second fastest growing economic region, more than 300 million Africans live below the poverty line. Most live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Unemployment rates are close to 40 per cent.
“Economic growth alone is not enough. If we want a continent with food security and social stability, we have to ensure that development focuses on people. They do not want handouts. They want economic opportunities,” said Nwanze.
“At TICAD this year, I hope we can go beyond talking about Africa’s potential and discuss what is practically needed for Africa’s people to seize that potential,” he added.
Rwanda’s food import status
Figures from the Ministry of Agriculture show that Rwanda imports more sugar and cereals than it exports.
Rwanda spends about $200 million on food imports every year, according to the State Minister for Agriculture, Tony Nsanganira.
Speaking to Saturday Times, yesterday, Nsanganira said the country’s expenditure on food imports “unfortunately keeps increasing, but we are working hard to see these figures reduce.”
“We mostly import processed food because our industries are yet to provide all that we need. We still have to import and we spend some millions on those food commodities such as sugar, wheat, rice ... which cost us in a range of about $150 million to $200 million annually,” Nsanganira said.
The 2015 food security and vulnerability report released by the ministry indicates that formal trade of cereals showed a “negative” trade balance in both 2013 and 2014.
The balance was about -268,000 metric tonnes in 2014. The total production of cereals in Rwanda in 2014 was about 583000 metric tonnes.
This year’s TICAD summit will also see the launch of Japan’s Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa, which will establish a framework for African countries to collaborate to improve their nutrition status.
In 2014, the top three importers of cereals were Bakhresa Grain Milling, Pembe Flour Mills and the ministry. The first two are active in agro-processing, while the latter focuses on whole grains and rebuilding the national strategic grain reserve among other priorities.
“We are closely working with the ministry of trade and industry to see how our industries can get raw materials and increase food productivity. We have also set up a second sugar factory to increase sugar production to 100,000 metric tonnes, which will make us self-sufficient starting 2018,” the minister said.
He described as “very unfortunate” that the country still imports rice, after seeing the heavy investment the government has invested in rice production.
But still, our goal is to be self-sufficient in rice production by 2018, he added.
However, Nsanganira admitted that it is “still difficult” for Rwanda to have sufficient wheat production, “because it is not the major food crop, so it competes with other staple crops such as beans, maize and cassava. But for the long term, we are working on land availability for wheat, which will take a long time.”
Japan is a founding member and a leading contributor to IFAD – a specialised United Nations agency and international financial institution that invests in agriculture and rural development in developing countries around the world.