opinionBy Mark Suzman
Seattle — Last week, at the African Union Summit in Equatorial Guinea, heads of state from across the continent reaffirmed their commitment to lift millions of Africans out of poverty by investing in agriculture.
As part of the revised Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP), the African leaders recommitted to allocating at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture and to achieving at least 6 percent annual agricultural growth. They also agreed to some ambitious new targets that include eliminating hunger for all Africans, reducing poverty by half through agriculture, creating job opportunities for at least 30 percent of Africa's youth, and tackling child under-nutrition across the continent.
Recognizing the strong potential of agriculture to accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty and hunger, African leaders first committed to the CAADP pledge in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2003. Today, thanks to a strong partnership between the African Union, governments, and civil society, the impact of these investments can be seen on small farms and in village markets across the continent.
According to a report by ONE on Africa's agricultural transformation, Ghana, which has consistently invested 9 percent of its national budget annually on agriculture, saw its poverty rates drop by 44 percent over 15 years. Ethiopia, which invested an average of 15 percent a year on agriculture from 2003 to 2010 – and also tripled its agricultural extension service staff and quadrupled the length of its rural road system – has cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half.
The logic behind these successes is simple: farmers comprise 65 percent of Africa's workforce. Helping them increase the productivity of their crops enables them to eat a more nutritionally diverse diet, send their children to school, and live better lives. Furthermore, when farmers' income increases, it stimulates growth in other sectors of the economy.
The African Union's designation of 2014 as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security – and the verbal commitments made by heads of state last week in Malabo – were important steps. Now, Africa's leaders must turn their pledges into action.
Ten years after CAADP's introduction, only eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa have consistently reached the 10 percent annual public spending target, and on average, African governments allocate just 6 percent of their national budgets to agriculture, according to the same report.
To achieve the greatest possible gains, updated policies in support of smallholder agriculture are also urgently needed across the continent. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other partners, is committed to working with countries to get farmers the resources, knowledge, and innovation that's required to achieve the goals of CAADP. Many of the solutions are at our fingertips and addressing already identified gaps can reap huge returns.
The new targets called for by African leaders — to eliminate hunger, reduce poverty by half, and halve post-harvest losses – are ambitious. They are also achievable, and can be used by countries as a scorecard to track progress and ensure they are focused on the right interventions. They can also enable citizens to hold their leaders accountable for their commitments.
Investing in farmers is a sound and proven development strategy, and it's critical if Africa's economic growth is to benefit everyone. We applaud Africa's leaders for taking the first step in Maputo, and for reaffirming those commitments last week in Malabo. The Gates Foundation looks forward to working with government leaders as they turn those pledges into action.
Mark Suzman is president of Global Policy and Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.