31 January  2014

Developing agriculture in Africa, eradicating hunger and poverty: What can we expect from the African Union Summit?

The XXIInd African Union Summit is being held from 21 to 31 January in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The main theme of this Summit is agriculture and food security.

The Summit also is the opportunity to proclaim ‘‘2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security’’ -  which falls the same year as the International Year of Family Farming -, and to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture and Development Programme (CAADP), whose results have however so far been rather mixed as shown by the report published in 2013 by the international NGO ONE.

The concept note for the Year of Agriculture and Food Security, entitled “Transforming Africa’s Agriculture for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, through Harnessing Opportunities for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development ” welcomes the high growth rate followed by African agriculture (+4% on average since 2003 - much better than during preceding decades, but below the CAADP objective of 6% per year). The note proposes to keep up with this positive trend by placing agriculture and food security as priority objectives for the years to come. 

This rather succinct note does not propose any analysis of the drivers of growth observed, which would probably have helped to better understand if this growth has really been in favour of more food security and less chronic hunger. It limits itself to stress progress made in the areas of investment partnerships for agriculture and food security, without providing any details on the role of rural communities and particularly the poorest producers, women and youths, in these partnerships. The note is also appreciative of the dialogue established at national level on food and agricultural policies and programmes which prepared the signing of numerous national CAADP compacts and programmes. It must however be recalled here that recent reviews showed that the approaches adopted by the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which has been placed in the framework of CAADP and is supported by several African governments, go against this dialogue and participation - through the imposition of conditions by large private partners supported by industrial countries and international financing institutions -, and often result in the exclusion of the very target populations emphasised by the concept note.

Orientations for the future, as proposed by the note, can be summarised in four main points:

  1. Continuation of broad-based and inclusive consultations, and dialogue among all relevant stakeholders (parliamentarians, women groups, youth groups, farmers organisations, CSOs, private sector, etc.) on Agriculture and food and nutrition security

  2. Exchange of experience sharing among Union member countries

  3. High level political dialogue to seek demonstrable commitment by Heads of state and government 

  4. Dialogue with the continent’s strategic partners.

According to the note, these orientations should allow achieving the following objectives:

  1. Enhanced level of awareness and engagement among broad spectrum of African citizenry

  2. Improved platforms for multi-sectoral actions at country and regional levels;

  3. Renewed demonstrable political commitment by African leaders through the adoption of a Declaration that proposed to deliver on a set of measurable goals and targets

  4. Renewed demonstrable commitment by the continent’s partners.

To be more specific on these orientations and objectives which remain quite general, the note gives some more details on its vision on the transformation that will have to take place in African agriculture:

  1. Greater integration of agriculture in the economy by creating stronger backward and forward linkages with other sectors and the development of value chains

  2. Giving a central role to smallholder farmers and particularly to women and youths

  3. Seizing the main opportunities identified for agriculture: development of value chains and local food and enhancing the role of local agricultural entrepreneurs, possibilities offered by the development of ICT, and natural resources (land, water and human resources in particular).

According to the note, this transformation will depend on the development of productivity and value added, more functional national and regional markets, increased investment financing and more resilience to address vulnerability to risks.

While reading the note, the missing points demonstrate that the African Union and its members are still a long way from agreeing on the best way to develop African agriculture and from having chosen among the two approaches to developing agriculture in Africa, namely:

  1. An approach relying essentially on the promotion of family farming

  2. An approach relying on private operators and seeking to mobilise investments by multinationals - possibly in the shape of joint ventures or public-private partnerships - , banks or foreign investment funds.

Some believe that these two approaches can be simultaneous and can even be complementary, private investors helping to build modern value chains and establish effective means of communication and finance. This could be true, on the condition that private investments do not result in the acquisition of douzains of millions of hectares of land to the detriment of local communities, do not go hand in hand with the imposition of policies (in particular on seeds) that are unfavourable to smallholders, and do not put in competition large production units using the latest and most advanced technologies and equipment with small producers using traditional production practices.

One would have liked to read in this note that there was a need to establish and implement rules and regulations that protect the interest of rural communities (protection of their rights to land, rules and standards for contractual arrangements between producers and traders/processors within value chains, etc.), to encourage small producers to get organised in groupings and to give priority to research on production technologies that are accessible to poor producers (read more on the 7 principles for ending hunger)

Today, the Summit meeting of Head of states and governments will review results of the work conducted since 21 of January and they will approve decisions made and the Summit declaration.

It will be interesting to see whether discussions during these last ten days have helped to clarify which options African states will select to develop their agriculture.


Do not forget to sign the petition: Hunger, crime against humanity


Last update:    January 2014

For your comments and reactions: