FORMER President Dr Jakaya Kikwete and delegates at a continental leadership forum have urged African countries to refocus on building a stronger supply value chain for agriculture on grounds that the sector occupies the best opportunity to grow the highly needed intra-trade.
Leaders and other participants noted that Africa is endowed with adequate arable land to contribute substantially to the inclusive growth and development of the continent, holding more than half of the world’s arable land and substantial renewable water resources required for irrigation.
Moreso, with an estimated 1.3 billion people of which, majority (at least 70 per cent) reside in rural areas and engage in agriculture as their core economic activity, it remains ironical that the continent still accounts for a mere 4 per cent of total agricultural production worldwide, they noted.
Speaking at the Africa Leadership Forum (ALF), which started here on Thursday, Dr Kikwete noted that the sector accounts for a large share of GDP and foreign Exchange earnings for the continent and thus gives a unique opportunity for the highly needed intra-Africa trade.
He added: “There is no sector that employs so many people than agriculture does, but it has not reached its potential, so discussing how to unlock potential is the right thing to do. More needs to be done in African countries and link it to on how to undo poverty, remove food shortages and hunger. This is a great opportunity for inclusivity in the intra trade chain.”
UONGOZI Institute has organised this year’s 7th ALF in collaboration with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat with the theme “Promoting intra-Africa trade to unlock agricultural potential in Africa”.
As the convener and ALF Patron, Dr Kikwete, noted that since its is the mainstay of the majority of the people in sub – Saharan Africa and the backbone of the economies, there is no better place to start on prioritising focus and innovation if the continent wants to increase trade among themselves.
He said this important sector has not been able to perform optimally because of the many constraints impeding full exploitation of its potential. Therefore, for this Forum to discuss unlocking the agricultural potential of Africa it is the right thing to do.
Dr Kikwete acknowledged that there were efforts being made by African governments for African smallholder farmers and other stakeholders to transform African agriculture and a significant ground already covered and a lot achieved.
However, much more needs to be done to make agriculture play its rightful role in the growth and development of African nations and wellbeing and prosperity of the people of Africa, he noted
“So far so good but it is not good enough as evidenced by the levels of poverty in rural areas, where many of our people live and the never ending reports of people who suffer from food shortages and hunger in Africa,” he pointed out.
Equally, he was of the view that reports of Africa still spending huge sums of hard earned forex importing food are not pleasant to hear. Likewise, reports that Africa is still exporting primary agricultural raw materials to the developed world and importing finished products from the raw materials that Africa exported.
“Investment in our people especially smallholder farmers and our young people; investment in our organizations and institutions to ensure the favourable environment of doing business prevail; and above all, our sacrifice to invest in the long-term African agenda over the short-term domestic priorities.”
Opening the Forum earlier, Ghana’s President Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo President said Africa’s intra-trade is one of the lowest in the region and remains fragmented with low production capacities.
“There is strength in Unity. If all the 54 countries of 1.3 billion people with majority young people and 3 trillion US dollars GDP collaborate, this is a huge opportunity for growth and deal with price hikes and global uncertainties,” he noted
He said that since this provides an opportunity for private sector, governments should be bold through coherent, strategic actions through value addition and greater sense of purpose.
AfCFTA Secretariat Secretary-General Wamkele Mene also noted that Africa remains a net food importer with the food import bill put at 80 billion US dollars in the year 2015 to 2017.
“We need to unlock the potential of our rural communities in order to be part of the global value chain and enable smallholder farmers to be part of global trade. In recognition of the role of private sector and businesses owned by women, AFCTA has prioritised agriculture and processing,” he said
Setting context for the plenary session, CRDB Bank Group CEO and Managing Director, Abdulmajid Nsekela said Africa’s agriculture market remains fragmented and scattered, which makes a case for integration as a way to boost the market and make the continent a global player.
He noted that the fact that Africa holds more than half arable land but can’t sufficiently feed itself, whilst spending 40billion US dollars on food imports per year needs change through capital and enabling policies to unlock the sector.
“To overcome these too, we must prioritise technology advances, knowledge transfer and adopt sustainable farming practices and the political will to drive this ambition forward,” he said, adding that his bank had showed efforts in these emerging solutions.
He called on financial institutions to collaborate with in the market as part of the solution to raise funds to support continental agricultural systems.
Sponsors of the event included the AfCFTA, NMB Bank, CRDB Bank, the Tanzania Agriculture Development Bank, NBC Bank Tanzania, ASAS CommNet and RAHISI, DTB Tanzania, Karibu Travel, African Leadership Magazine and several others.