Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire — "Regardless of the approach or transformative pathway chosen to change food systems and trade regimes, African countries need to undertake radical change in agricultural production systems, adopt agribusiness and promote regional agricultural value chains as a vein for regional integration." The statement was made by Stephen Karingi, Director of the ECA's Regional Integration and Trade Division this week in Cote d'Ivoire, at the opening of a symposium themed: Implementing Agro-Industrialization and Regional Value Chains for Africa's Agricultural Transformation.
"Despite a handful of landmark political commitments, Africa is the only region in the world that has witnessed an increase in the number of food insecure people and has a mushrooming agricultural and food trade deficit," said Karingi.
He noted that the food situation continues to worsen in real terms with the number of chronically food insecure reaching 229 million in 2016. "This is about 49 million more people at risk compared to 1990 - almost one of every four in Africa, excluding North Africa," he said.
Karingi indicated that the progress in the levels of agricultural productivity has been uneven across countries, ranging from an increase of 325% in Nigeria to a decrease of about 40% in Zimbabwe and proposed that rethinking agricultural transformation would involve the adoption of a three-pronged approach that should systematically and comprehensively consider three essential elements: farming systems, agribusiness and regional value chains.
On efficient farming systems he said that Africa needs to produce more food and agricultural products through systems that can produce more with less finger print; that are resilient to climate variability and external shocks and that are more responsive to changing needs.
With regard to adopting an agribusiness growth strategy, he said it fits both the resource endowment of most African economies and the conditions surrounding the overwhelming majority of the poor who live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
"Agribusiness is substantially labor-intensive in terms of creating jobs and generating value added; in addition, it strengthens forward and backward linkages," he said, adding: "This entails a paradigm shift from supply to a demand-driven market, in which the agribusiness value chain, covering farming production, processing and services and shifts the transitional focus from production to downstream stages of value chains." He underscored the benefits of a sustained demand for agricultural products, stating that a vigorous agribusiness would fuel agricultural production and productivity.
On the third approach, Mr. Karingi said that promoting regional agricultural value chains is a critical step towards creating incentives for meaningful private sector investment, allowing the full realization of competitiveness gains and intra-regional trade potential for African agriculture.
ECA has embarked, jointly with the AUC, on a process to develop a Draft Africa Policy Framework, Applications Platform and Guidelines for the Development and Promotion of Regional Agricultural Value Chains (RAVCs). The Policy Framework aims to provide principles, tools and guidelines for Regional Economic Communities and AU member states to guide policies and regulations that promote a viable sustainable agricultural development through fostering RAVCs. The framework builds on the findings of 5 regional assessment studies, spanning over 16 African countries, of value chains of some of the most important strategic commodities. These studies, through a comprehensive approach, identified the potential and challenges for the development of regional value chains and underscored the need to develop a unified coordination and implementation arrangement.
The Symposium is jointly organized by the ECA, the Government of Cote D'Ivoire, African Union's Trade and Industry Department and the African Development Bank.