KEYNOTE SPEECH AT THE ANNUAL WEST AFRICAN REGIONAL MAGAZINE ACHIEVERS AWARDS CEREMONY IN EKO HOTELS & SUITES LAGOS – NIGERIA

Your Excellences
Heads of invited delegations
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Invited Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the collective citizens of Africa, whom you have so ably enriched and continue to serve through your many achievements, I welcome all of you to Lagos, Nigeria and to the fourth edition of THE WEST AFRICAN REGIONAL MAGAZINE ACHIEVERS AWARDS CEREMONY.Before I proceed, I wish to express, on behalf of the organizers and sponsors of this event, a profound gratitude to the government and people of Nigeria for the warm reception that has been accorded the organizers and guests of this year’s Award Ceremony. This warm welcome demonstrates that Nigeria is indeed the giant of Africa.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
This award ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate and honour the achievements of some West Africa’s brightest luminaries, who have distinguished themselves in service to the continent and the world, through their talent and ingenuity.

This award event was necessitated by the real need for the West African, and equally the broader African, to acknowledge and recognize the achievements of Africans who are making a positive difference in our world. We applaud and salute you all.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
As most of us are all too well aware of, Africa is incredibly rich in natural and human resources. The continent is home to approximately one billion people. And as anyone who has a remote understanding of our continent would attest, the agricultural sector plays a significant role in the sustenance of this growing population.

In most African countries, an estimated seventy percent of the population depends directly on agriculture for fulltime employment—most of whom are rural dwellers, and many others rely on agricultural related businesses for part of their household income.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), estimates that without this direct and indirect support of this sector, up to two hundred million Africans would live with food insecurity. This estimate was in keeping with the finding that agriculture supports the livelihood of about eighty percent of Africa’s population—and provides employment for about sixty percent of the economically active population group, and for the poorest people on the continent.

Ironically, despite the fact that a majority of the total labor force of many African countries are employed in the agricultural sector, the sub-Saharan African region is still unable to feed its growing population. Many countries in Africa still import over fifty percent of the nutritional needs of its population. This is an unsustainable state of affairs that must be stemmed, as quickly as possible.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
As anyone who is reasonably acquainted with the agricultural sector in Africa would attest, our continent has enormous potential to exponentially scale-up agribusiness—not only to provide for the nutritional needs of its citizenry, but also to become a major exporter of all sorts of food items to the rest of the world.

Africa spends between fifteen to twenty billion dollars annually on food imports—this is in addition to the more than two billion dollars the continent receives in food aid annually, from its development partners. These are staggering sums of money, which could be used to support the agricultural sector—particularly in the area of further enhancing productivity.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
The World Bank has projected that Africa will be home to about two billion people by the year 2050—the majority of whom will be women and youths. This projection underlines the need urgent need for African countries and their leaders to accelerate the drive for food security, and to perhaps, become a net exporter of food to the rest of the world.

It does not take much imagination to figure that feeding this burgeoning population of 1.5 billion people by 2030 and a staggering two billion people by 2050 would be a daunting challenge that the current and future leaders of Africa cannot afford to fail in delivering on.

As a consequence, I here propose that in the coming decades, the agricultural policy of the decision-makers of Africa needs to be increasingly geared towards ensuring food security for a growing population that is increasingly urbanized.

As an expanding sector of the Africa economy, a further boost in the continent’s agricultural productivity can contribute significantly towards the eradication of hunger and poverty in Africa—while at the same time enhancing intra-African trade and investment, and effecting job creation.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
In early 2000s, when the international community agreed to implement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the role agriculture as a tool for the reduction of extreme poverty and hunger, and its effectiveness as an engine of sustainable growth were thoroughly deliberated. This was as a consequence of the realization that the need for action in agricultural development had become urgent as a result of systemic spikes in global food prices, which carries the associated risk of social and political turmoil.

The global financial and food crisis of 2008-2009 brought the need for vibrant agricultural activity to sharp focus. The 2008 global economic meltdown, clearly demonstrated that poverty and food insecurity go hand in hand.

When food prices rose dramatically in 2008, and an economic recession hit—then coupled with a new spectra of drought and famine as a consequence of climate change, the ability of the world, and of Africa in particular, to feed its population in the medium and long term became a significant concern. African leaders need to make sure that the continent never finds itself in such predicament in the future.

It has been said that, to prepare for the future, it is important to learn from the past. In keeping with this time honored adage—having learnt from past failures, policymakers needs to formulate additional, and more robust, policy initiatives that would encourage farmers to begin to view the agribusiness as an economic engine for wealth creation, and for the alleviation of endemic rural unemployment.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
A major policy initiative that was designed to stem the lackluster performance in agricultural productivity and to sustain the momentum in expanding the agribusiness sector in Africa is the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, (CAADP), which was endured by African governments in late 2002—under the initiative of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, (NEPAD).

In 2003, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and its complimentary Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), were launched—with aim to accelerate agricultural growth in the sub-Saharan region. Equally in 2003, African heads of States signed the Maputo Declaration, which mandated African governments to allocate a minimum of ten percent of their national annual budget to agriculture.

Since its inception, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) has served as a catalyst for Africa’s new agricultural revolution. The CAADP initiative has succeeded in spotlighting the importance of agriculture to the continent’s economic transformation.

The exponential rise in food prices of 2008 prompted the G8 to pledge USD 20 billion, over a three year period, to increased food production. Additionally, the Chinese government pledged USD 10 billion in public-private-partnerships in agriculture to help attain the NEPAD-CAADP objectives. The CAADP framework, which is already being implemented in most countries, will enable more efficient investments in the agricultural sector.

CAADP has become an instrument through which African States are reclaiming ownership of its agricultural policies—and a means by which the continent’s citizens are  breaking away from the harsh and restrictive conditions that was imposed on them through past structural adjustment programs.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite the challenges that farmers face in Africa, there are evidence that big changes are on the way. My assessment of the current vibrancy that I see in the agricultural sector, leads me to speculate that the African agricultural sector may be at the threshold of a new revival. It seems to me like Africa is at the verge of initiating the long-awaited ‘green revolution’.

An African ‘green revolution’ would exponentially raise the output of agricultural production through the employment of new technology and scientific methodology. This has the real potential to raise the volume and value of the agro sector productivity, and to expand related business activities.

In practical terms, with a green revolution, Africa could potentially expand the value of its agricultural output from the current 280 billion dollars a year, to about 500 billion by 2020, and then to a further 800 billion by 2030. This figure is the estimated projections of McKinsey Global Institute.

If these projections hold true, its impact on real economy would be the exponential rise in rural income. This would consequently boost GDP growth, and create many more business opportunities that would spur a new middleclass.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
It is fair to say that this enhanced level of growth in agricultural output would consequently raise the demand for upstream agro-related products such as fertilizers, high yield seeds, pesticides, and machinery. It would also spur the downstream business activities in grain refining and packaging, all sorts of food processing, and biofuel. It is estimated that the total value of these related markets could reach $275 billion a year by 2030.

This potential of high economic impact on the real economic has compelled many of the continents governments to market-oriented agricultural policies—committing more resources to the sector. Indeed, the volatility in food prices in recent years underscored the necessity for such resource allocation—providing policymakers the requisite impetus to act.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
There is no denying the fact that agriculture faces a number of challenges in Africa. Although these challenges do significantly hinder productivity, they are not particularly insurmountable. Let me here address some of these challenges—as outlined in the African Development Bank’s agricultural sector report of 2010.

The report pointed out soils of the continent’s vast land surface is typically old and leached. It highlighted the fact that 16% of the surface land is classified as very low in nutrients as opposed to just 4% in Asia—and that African soils are estimated to be losing nutrients worth $4 billion per annum. Yet farmers use fertilizer at a rate of only about 8kg/ha and far less in smallholder farming, compared to a target of 50kg/ha8. This may not be surprising, given the cost that Sub-Saharan African farmers must pay for fertilizer, which is up to three times that paid by their counterparts in Brazil, India or Thailand. This is an area where policymaker can intervene by introducing significantly low fertilizer subsidy for smallholder farmer.

In many countries in Africa, rainfall is often unreliable and the effects of drought are aggravated by fragile soils with low water-holding capacity. Water and soil conservation measures, often based on indigenous knowledge, have been identified, but the investment to put these into effect over large areas has been lacking. There is huge potential to increase irrigation in dry areas and partial water control in more humid areas. Improved moisture and soil fertility management could raise production despite the general reliance on rain-fed agriculture. A broad set of technologies, many of which draw on indigenous knowledge, have been developed. Governments of the affected countries must secure and deploy these technologies as quickly as possible where needed.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
The majority of agricultural institutions in Africa lack the requisite expertise to deal with the challenges that African farmers face in the near and long term. There are deficiencies in professional skills for planning, policy formulation and analysis. There is a real need for effective budgetary outlays for program implementation, and monitoring and evaluation, so as to help militate against corruption and resource wastage. A rapid scale-up in this area is needed, so as to effectively evolve indigenous solutions to problems and challenges faced by African farmers.

The access to high-yield seed, and to disease resistant livestock, is limited. There is also a cost-restrictive access to appropriate technology to increase labor output and to reduce drudgery. Only a limited number of crops and livestock products are produced for the market despite the varieties of livestock and crop that have evolved over time in Africa. The low prices for farm products on local, national and international markets limit farmers’ ability to secure necessary credit facilities from financial institutions. Here too the governments must decisively allocate resources to help mitigate these problems. Perhaps there is a need to look into the possibility of offering farm subsidies to farmers.

There is an information deficit where it comes to farmers’ knowledge of the agro market conditions. Where opportunities exist, farmers can rarely take advantage of them because they cannot afford the necessary empower to get their farm produce to market, or are not sufficiently informed on how to effectively get their products to where they are most needed. Governments generally lack the capacity to redress these issues, but this needs to change. Policymaker need to clearly understand that a timely access to markets by farmers will spur more investments in agricultural production.

United Nations’ Climate Change models forecast that THE Sub-Saharan African region will be one of the most affected land areas from the scourge of global warming. This is despite the fact that Africa contributes the least to the causes of global warming. Given that agriculture accounts for 85% of global fresh water use, and contributes an estimated 22-30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, certain consequences of global warming are clear. With this in mind, there was no specific provision in current international Climate Change protocols for African countries to benefit from the carbon markets for environmental services, sequestering carbon in forests and land, managing watersheds and preserving biodiversity. This area requires closer attention by our governments.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
These seemingly intractable challenges, however, cannot overshadow the impressive successes recorded in some regions of Africa, and in a few individual countries. According to African Development Bank’s agricultural sector report, food security and farm incomes have markedly increased in West Africa, while use of ‘smart’ subsidies for key inputs in countries like Malawi has greatly impacted yields, showing that smallholder farming can respond to properly targeted economic policy interventions. The crop yields of cereals and root crops have also increased significantly in some farming systems in Western and Eastern Africa. The widespread productivity gains from NERICA, increases in cassava production in Nigeria and maize hybrids in East and Southern Africa are further evidence of growth in the sector over the recent past.

I want to leave you with my final assessment that, contrary to popular notion; agricultural productivity in Africa has increased steadily in recent years—thanks in part to policy initiatives that African leaders collectively championed through the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, (NEPAD). However, much more needs to be done to expand current gains in this very important sector in other for it to achieve parity with what is obtainable in other parts of the world.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank all of you for the opportunity to address you. It has been a great honor and privilege. Once again, I welcome you to this edition of THE WEST AFRICAN REGIONAL MAGAZINE’s ACHIEVERS AWARDS CEREMONY. Enjoy yourselves.

Authored by E. Stanley Ukeni

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