The year 2016 is coming to an end with an air of great uncertainty. At the global level, many are left with questions over Brexit and the US elections. At home, many of our economies are under a great deal of stress and the news is awash with depressed global commodity prices, the threat of climate change and limited access to agricultural finance. It is no secret that growing at the more modest growth rates that are currently being forecasted for the continent is not enough to sustain the Africa rising narrative we experienced in previous years.
Yet, at the ECA, we remain convinced that the time we spent pushing for structural transformation since the 2008 global and financial crisis was not in vain. We are, after all, forging ahead with big ideas, such as reinvigorating the role of the state and the development planning imperative, enhancing inter-African trade and building on the opportunities presented by the Continental Free Trade Area, whose negotiations are well underway. The underbelly of these big, well researched ideas and policy recommendations is what is disconcerting. The continued dissatisfaction with jobless growth continues to bite. It remains at the heart of social unrest and in some ways, contributes to the disbelief in the promise of big policy ideas. And so, tangible results, such as getting our young people off the streets and into earning decent incomes and thus, securing their future, are what we at the Economic Commission for Africa continue to push and advocate for. Tangible results remain at the heart of deep structural transformation.
To turn the tide on jobless growth and curb inequality, we see a light at the end of the tunnel and it lies in one of the most promising of sectors – agriculture - which underpins the theme of this year’s African Economic Conference - Feeding Africa: Towards Agro-Allied Industrialization for Inclusive Growth. This annual gathering of African researchers from December 5-7 Conference in Abuja, is a rallying call to move decisively, away from the status quo of an agricultural sector which relies on obsolete technology and instead, move towards agribusiness and linkage development across sectors; increase agricultural productivity, and close the gap of the food and growth deficit which currently characterizes the sector. Beneath the cloud of the uncertainty of our times, we cannot tackle the ever present and looming challenges of transformation, by doing business as usual. We need an open mind; and a strategy of championing and developing agro-allied industries that promote more robust, inclusive, green growth may be a viable alternative to reversing the dampened growth trends we face today.
At the ECA, we are greatly encouraged by Nigeria, which, despite its current economic challenges, is leading the way in agricultural transformation. We therefore, cannot overemphasize that failure to unburden ourselves from traditional ways of dealing with agriculture will entrench our vulnerability to threats, such as climate change.
While the odds may seem stack against Africa, the only way, is to look up and wake up to the potential for agro-allied industrialization and mainstream it into national development strategies and ensure coherence among all national policies. The focus must be, as always, long-term structural transformation. With more emphasis on the linkages between agricultural and industrial strategies, we can move steadily along a gradual approach to industrialization as well as upgrade along value chains.
Ultimately, the road to the fulfilment of the decades-old Abuja treaty, which is also the venue for this year’s African Economic Conference, will go beyond the expectation of improving intra-African trade. It is about a smart approach towards the transformation of the continent and tapping into the unlimited opportunities found in global agricultural and food markets.
The global and national economic waves, tides and tensions will continue to persist but we can still forge ahead as a Continent, by deepening transformation and embarking on an agro-alliance oriented industrialization.
The author, Abdalla Hamdok is the Acting Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, headquartered in Addis Ababa. More: www.uneca.org