The AU Summit and 10 years of agriculture
The 22nd African Union Summit began on Tuesday, 21 January 21 in Addis Ababa with the 27th ordinary session of the AU’s Permanent Representative’s Committee, chaired by Ethiopia’s Ambassador Konjit Sinegiorgis. It will conclude on Friday, 31 January with the end of the two-day Assembly of the Heads of State and Government.
The theme of this Summit, “Agriculture and Food Security”, was chosen in order to mark the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) which was adopted by the Heads of State and Government Summit in July 2003.
Agriculture is the primary economic sector of many African countries, generating more employment opportunities and export earnings than other sectors. It is estimated that more than 65 percent of Africans derive their livelihood from agriculture, both in employment and in food production. It is the single most important sector in the continent’s macro-economic portfolio, with a conservative estimate of close to a 40 percent contribution to GDP and providing more than half of the continent’s export revenue. The vulnerability to seasonal fluctuations in food production and the all-too-frequent incidents of food insecurity, therefore, make a continent-wide policy focus on agricultural development an economic and social imperative.
This much needed policy focus was demonstrated when African leaders endorsed the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) at the AU’s second ordinary session in Maputo, Mozambique. The Assembly that endorsed CAADP noted that 30 percent of Africans were “chronically and severely undernourished” and that the continent was then “a net importer of food and the largest recipient of food aid”. In order to change that grim reality the Maputo Assembly declared that Africa needed to use “its full potential to increase its food and agriculture production so as to guarantee sustainable food security and ensure economic prosperity for its people”. It agreed to urgently implement the CAADP and adopt effective policies that would encourage the sector’s development domestically across the continent.
As it name signifies, CAADP aims for a rapid and comprehensive development of Africa’s agricultural sector with the stated goal of enabling African countries to attain a “higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development, which eliminates hunger, reduces poverty and food insecurity, and enables expansion of exports”. In order to achieve these goals, African governments agreed to devote at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agricultural development and the CAADP set 6 percent as a minimum threshold for an annual agricultural productivity growth rate.
The Program focuses on four critical strategic areas that it identified as high impact and structurally valuable. The first of these pillars, as they are referred to, is to extend the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems. That will go a long way in terms of efficient utilization of the vast and so far unutilized or underutilized arable land on the continent.
The second pillar of the CAADP is improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access. Considering the fact that the most severe impediments to Africa’s competitiveness in primary products are to be found in physical and structural shortcomings, investment in these areas is most essential. Africa’s infrastructure, primarily in transport and logistics, were put in place during the colonial era with the sole aim of shipping raw materials out of the continent. The absence of infrastructure relevant to domestically vibrant economies divorced from a primary feeder role has indeed held Africa’s agriculture back for decades. Improvements in both the physical and systemic infrastructure will certainly boost the continent’s productivity.
The third pillar of engagement for the CAADP revolves around ensuring food security by increasing food supplies, reducing hunger, and improving the response to food emergency crises. The fourth pillar focuses on improving agriculture research, technology dissemination and its adoption. This will provide the much needed scientific support to the sector through innovative solutions that boost productivity.
Taken in tandem with the domestic focus on agriculture by member countries, the AU’s initiative of agricultural development has effectively revitalized the continent’s agricultural sector and attracted huge foreign investment. Some African countries, including notably Ethiopia, have made agriculture development the centerpiece of their development agenda and their agricultural productivity growth rate has been instrumental in sustaining the overall economic growth of the past decade.
Ethiopia’s impressive economic performance over the past eleven years has been well publicized internationally. What has been less emphasized is the fact that the double digit growth rate (averaging 10.6 percent for the past ten years, according to the World Bank) has been made possible through intensive and extensive investment in agriculture. By earmarking an average of 15 percent of the national budget to agriculture and achieving close to 10 percent growth rates in the sector, Ethiopia has been one of the handful of countries that have met the 6 percent productivity growth rate and the 10 percent budget allocation targets set by the AU Summit in Maputo back in 2003. An additional fact is that this has enabled Ethiopia’s economic growth to have a real impact on the most vulnerable members of the society, often farmers.
In a continent where it is the most important economic sector both as a source of people’s livelihood and as the source of the largest contributions to GDP, the historical neglect of policy makers towards agriculture have resulted in devastating humanitarian crises. The meager overall level of investment in the sector from both public expenditure and private finance has proved disastrous for Africa’s economic prospects and its human capital development. A rejuvenated agricultural sector is not only necessary to increase income levels for the majority of people who live off the sector but also ensure food security through increased food supply and lower costs.
To mark the tenth year anniversary of the CAADP, the 22nd Ordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government is expected to declare 2014 the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security”. In addition, the Summit will also hear reports on the implementation of previous decisions, on the activities of the Union’s Peace and Security Council, of NEPAD and of the activities of the High-Level Committee on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, as well as other pertinent reports. The Summit will also appoint ten new members of the Peace and Security Council to serve for the next two years as well as choose the new Chairperson for the African Union for 2014.
This article originally appeared in A Week in The Horn of Africa, a newsletter that focuses on economic developments in the Horn of Africa region.