With a depressed global commodities market, threats from climate change and limited access to agricultural finance, the economies of many African countries are under a great deal of stress. Modest growth rates that are currently being forecasted for the continent are not enough to sustain the projected ‘Africa Rising’ narrative.
Nevertheless, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) is pushing ahead with the structural transformation that it began implementing since the 2008 global and financial crisis. The ECA remains committed to its 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, the negotiations for which are well underway.
But well researched ideas and policy recommendations do not lead to tangible results, such as getting young people off the streets and into earning decent incomes that allow them to secure their future. Jobless growth in many economies lies at the heart of social unrest and in some ways contributes to the disbelief in the promise of big policy ideas.
To turn the tide on jobless growth and curb inequality, the ECA is increasingly looking at agriculture. This shift towards an emphasis on agriculture was underlined at this year’s African Economic Conference that was held under the theme, Feeding Africa: Towards Agro-Allied Industrialization for Inclusive Growth.
This theme is timely and in line with the current African and international development agenda. Ending poverty and overcoming hunger and food insecurity permanently are the first and second, respectively, of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) endorsed in September 2015 by UN member States.
After three days of intensive deliberations and brainstorming, the Conference came up with mechanisms for a sustainable, inclusive, green and scalable agro-industry appropriate for a continent which is home to 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, roughly 60 percent of the global total.
The conference’s rallying call for African agriculture was to shift away decisively from its reliance on outdated technology and instead move towards agribusiness and linkage development across sectors; increase agricultural productivity, and close the gap of the food and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. The conference urged for a strategy that championed and developed agro-allied industries that promote more robust, inclusive, green growth essential to reversing the dampened growth trends Africa faces today.
Experts pointed out that while the odds may seem stacked 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, while ensuring 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 so that Africa can move steadily along a gradual approach to industrialization as well as upgrade along value chains.
The take-away from the conference was that while global and national economic waves, tides and tensions will continue to persist, African can still forge ahead as a continent, by deepening transformation and embarking on an agro-alliance oriented industrialization.