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‘To maximise value from agriculture, we need to think beyond production’

By Chuks Nwanne
27 June 2020   |   3:17 am
Dr. Debisi Araba is the Managing Director at African Green Revolution Forum, the premier catalytic, multi-partner platform for food and agriculture transformation in Africa. He is also a member of the Malabo Montpellier Panel of international agriculture experts

Dr. Debisi Araba is the Managing Director at African Green Revolution Forum, the premier catalytic, multi-partner platform for food and agriculture transformation in Africa. He is also a member of the Malabo Montpellier Panel of international agriculture experts, who guide policy choices that accelerate progress towards food and nutritional security in Africa. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, he spoke on the AGRF’s role in ensuring that agriculture in Africa receives the attention it deserves via multi-sector participation, policy, capital, and knowledge investments.

What does your current role at the AGRF entail?
As the Managing Director of the AGRF, I’m responsible for managing the world’s most important and impactful forum for African agriculture, bringing together stakeholders in the agricultural landscape to take practical actions and share lessons that will move African agriculture forward. The Forum, together with its many follow-on activities, is designed to energise political will and advance the policies, programs and investments required to achieve an inclusive and sustainable agricultural transformation across the continent. AGRF has helped to keep top-level agenda items, including Malabo Declaration commitments and related indicators from the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), the Sustainable Development Goals, and Africa’s Agenda 2063 high on the list of Heads of State and ministers.

Agriculture being a viable yet unpredictable sector, what key initiatives or interventions are you taking to ensure it scales?
For the agriculture sector to deliver shared prosperity for millions, we need to have the public sector create an enabling environment for private enterprise to thrive. This is the agricultural transformation we are fostering through the AGRF. Through our core network of twenty-three partners, we are evolving thematic engagement platforms to support everyone working in the agriculture sector. An example is Generation Africa, the Youth Entrepreneurship Platform working to support the emergence of a new generation of young, well-resourced agripreneurs across the continent. Within this platform, we hold an annual GoGettaz agripreneurship competition, which includes business support and incubation.

Another example is the Agribusiness Deal Room that we host under the Agri-invest and Finance Thematic Platform. Through the Deal Room, we help to identify viable investment deals, and facilitate access to funding. In the Agribusiness Deal Room at the 2019 Summit, 117 African enterprises seeking about $ 800m of investments were matched with over 50 investors and financial institutions. Forty per cent of participating enterprises were women-owned, and sixteen governments presented investment opportunities totaling about USD $ 2bn. The other eight thematic platforms are equally focused on supporting improved outcomes for the private sector, and or improving the policy and regulatory framework for the sector.

Do you think public-private partnership (PPP) is the only way to engineer agricultural transformation in this region?
The quickest and surest path to sustained, shared prosperity is the one that involves a close collaboration between the public and private sectors of the economy. At the AGRF, we highlight the success stories of these partnerships to serve as a catalyst for a race to the top across Africa.

Unemployment remains a major issue in Africa, how do we ensure that young people and women are well motivated and better engaged to deliver this transformation for agric sector?
Nature did not design birds to fly with just one wing. Inequality, especially gender-based, limits our collective potential and compromises our ability to be competitive. A lot of work is going on to create mechanisms and systems to support equality within and across economic sectors in Africa. Within the AGRF, we have both the Women in Agriculture, as well as generation Africa, targeted at removing the barriers to inclusivity and ensuring that the prosperity within the agriculture sector extends to everyone. We need to improve the value proposition for entrepreneurship in agriculture and food systems. While we may not be able to guarantee that everyone, who enters the sector, will be successful, we could focus on the binding constraints limiting the creative, brave minds willing to get on the dance floor of agripreneurship. It is a sector poised to absorb millions of jobs, across the production, distribution, and consumption hubs of food systems.

How does the value chain in a commodity’s production and processing enhance the country’s economy?
To maximise the value from agriculture, we need to think beyond production. For most commodities, the highest value is derived from processing and retail to the end consumer. As productivity-enhancing technologies become more ubiquitous and cheaper, we will have less need for millions of people involved in direct on-farm production. This is not a bad thing, as it frees up people to engage in more productive, secure, higher quality form of employment. Engaging in processing, storage, logistics, and retail, for example, helps to create more secure jobs and helps to build the know-how, which can be transferred into allied sectors, creating a multiplier effect. It builds the economic complexity in productive capabilities, which increase the foundational resilience of economies and form the basis for growth. Globally, agriculture and the food systems, which also includes storage, transportation, processing, and retail, is valued at about USD $8 trillion and accounts for 10 per cent of the global GDP. For Nigeria, a focus on agriculture and food systems is a viable pathway for stimulating wider, multi-sectoral economic growth.

What is the role of financial services and inclusion in stimulating these economic outcomes especially for the smallholder farmers?
Smallholder farmers are a key partner in transforming the wider agriculture sector, to increase productivity, feed the continent and, potentially feed the world. Though agriculture contributes about 40 per cent of GDP and employs about 70 per cent of the working population, the sector receives less than 10 per cent of lending from the financial services sector. This underfunding of the agriculture sector is systemic and has not gone unnoticed. Quite a few of the AGRF partners are working collaboratively to improve the science-based evidence which should improve our understanding and pricing of lending products and, in turn, unlock access to affordable financial products and services.

It is believed that access to credit may strengthen agric businesses, as well as increase profits and revenues. What more can be done to support investment in Agric?
Access to affordable credit is one of the many components required for businesses to thrive. In addition to this, we need to equip people with know-how. Access to credit may not be transformative, without the knowledge to maximize productivity. AGRF partners are working to increase know-how for everyone involved in the sector. An example is the support to public sector officials in developing sustainable policies for entrepreneurship to thrive. Another is through the promotion of market creating opportunities. The African Continental Free Trade Area was ratified last year. At the AGRF, we are creating opportunities to spur inter-Africa trade and promote the agriculture sector as one key area through which African economies may trade with each other and, collectively, with the rest of the world. The more market-creating opportunities exist, the easier it would be for the agriculture sector to grow and absorb more labour.

In solving some of these challenges, how do you work with government parastatals whose core mandates interact with the objectives of your organisation?
At the AGRF, we serve governments at all levels – regional, national and local – and ensure that the very best of ideas, programs, successes, knowledge and opportunities are shared and, through the network of partners, we ensure that we give everyone a shot at success. Our mission is aligned with supporting countries to achieve the goals of the African Union Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods. At the AGRF, everyone is welcome because we are on this this journey together.

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