Highlight: Private sector could play a major role in feeding Africa

September 08, 2014
Kiprotich Koros
Experts working on diverse issues surrounding agriculture and food security met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on September 1, 2014 at the "Research to Feed Africa" high level policy dialogue. The dialogue aimed to discuss the role of science and technology in advancing Africa's much needed agricultural transformation. Convened by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF) in collaboration with the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), the dialogue set the stage for the fourth African Green Revolution Forum, where 1,000 delegates were set to help forge a continental vision for agricultural development in Africa.
Engaging the private sector

The dialogue highlighted the major constraints to improving smallholder farming, including lack of access to credit. It cited that more than 80% of the total financial flows from developed to developing countries were in the private sector.

"If we are to accelerate impact and achieve scale, we will need to involve the private sector," said IDRC President Jean Lebel. "Partnering with the private sector can help improve supply chains. To accelerate impact, and ensure that research breakthroughs benefit as many people as possible, we need to find ways of involving the private sector," he added.

Echoing his words, the Honourable Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the reluctance of financial institutions to advance loans to small-scale farmers stems from ignorance of the sector's potential. Interest rates in Africa remain the highest in the world, ranging between 20-30%, and remain largely inaccessible to many poor farmers, he said.

Adesina called for greater focus on innovative financial instruments that would reduce the risks institutions face in lending to agriculture. This would help drive the uptake of the products of agricultural research investments and drive sustainable growth in agricultural sectors, he said.

Can Africa feed herself?

Africa's population is expected to rise to 2.4 billion by 2050 and agricultural production will have to increase by 260%. The African Union's June 2014 Malabo Declaration on agricultural growth and transformation aims to halve poverty in Africa by 2025 through agricultural transformation. Africa's potential remains high as 65% of arable lands are available.

However, logistical problems greatly hinder Africa's quest to achieve food security. For example, post-harvest losses reach as high as  40%. Total post-harvest losses in sub-Saharan Africa are valued at US$4 billion. Experts urge for better product handling, storage, and post-harvest processing, as well as safety, so that benefits can also reach consumers.

"It is clear that we need to focus on cutting-edge technologies and state-of-the-art developments to guide us to solutions in challenging areas," said Lebel.

"Building on the experience of local farmers is the right approach to take. We need to recognize that there are untapped opportunities in small-scale farming systems, where farmers have demonstrated remarkable innovation in farming their lands. Often building on these practical innovations is the best way to go," he said.

Kiprotich Koros is a senior science reporter at Science Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

Learn more about IDRC's work on food security

Read the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods