Investments in agriculture can lift millions out of poverty and hunger in Africa

The crash of commodity prices has greatly affected economies in Africa with the need for economic diversification now more pertinent than ever. Growth has dropped to the lowest levels in several years, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cutting Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth forecasts to 3 percent for this year and 4 percent in 2017. But there is hope and it lies in Agriculture.

Kanayo Nwanze, the President of the UN’s International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD), brings this strong message of optimism to government and business leaders gathering for the Grow Africa Investment Forum and the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF) in Kigali this week.

“Investments in agriculture can generate great riches for the continent and lift millions out of poverty and hunger,” said Nwanze. “There are high returns to those countries that take agriculture seriously.”

But with many countries in southern and eastern Africa suffering from the worst drought in decades, and with fiscal deficits widening and conflicts increasing on the continent, some experts are questioning the “Africa Rising” narrative.

Nwanze, however, remains confident Africa is still a continent of unprecedented opportunity. He said supporting small-scale farmers and investing in rural areas are some of the best ways for countries to meet their broader development objectives, including poverty reduction.

He said, Africa could double its agricultural productivity in the next five years, if it gets the right investment.

“Half of the world’s uncultivated land which is suited for growing food crops is in Africa,” said Nwanze. “We need to work together to harness the continent’s potential and this means investing in small-scale farmers who are the backbone of African agriculture.”

Despite having 25 percent of the world’s arable land, Africa generates only 10 percent of global agricultural output. Investments that encourage increased agricultural production would cut Africa’s annual $35 billion food import bill which can be used for the continent’s other development needs.

Nwanze also said that investments alone will not transform the continent. Governments need to get their own houses in order and ensure that there is a strong commitment to policies and incentives that encourage higher food production by smallholder farmers.

“At IFAD we know that small-scale farmers do not want hand-outs. They want economic opportunities,” said Nwanze. “I am looking forward to discussing how we can create those opportunities and make agriculture a profitable sector and a powerful catalyst for development.”

The Grow Africa and WEF events will bring together global and regional heads of government, business and civil society. Nwanze will participate in a high-level panel discussion at Grow Africa on “Accelerating Agricultural Transformation.” While at WEF, he will moderate “Rethinking Agriculture,” a session on innovative ways to create sustainable food systems.