Interview with Chiji Ojukwu, Director, Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department, AfDB

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How can the African Development Bank (AfDB) best promote agriculture sector and agriculture infrastructure projects in Africa? What kind of policies and financing tools can incentivize investments in this sector? What roles do the public and private sectors and alternative resource mobilization; play in ensuring Africa’s future and sustainable growth? Ahead of the institution’s Annual Meetings in Abidjan, from May 25-29, the Director of the Bank’s Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department, Chiji Ojukwu, examines the challenges and proposes viable solutions Excerpts.

In spite of hosts of challenges faced by Africa, AfDB has, for the past decades, worked hard to increase agricultural production so as to reduce poverty and promote economic growth. With facts and figures, can you name few Bank success stories and how do we yield more such impressive stories?

Chiji Ojukwu: The Bank has made steady progress in helping its Regional Member Countries (RMCs) to grow their economies by investing in the agriculture sector. During 1968-2014, the Bank Group approved a total of 876 operations with commitments valued at approximately USD 14.78 billion that provide support to agriculture and rural development. Between 2010-2014, about 230,000 kilometres of feeder roads were constructed and/or rehabilitated and 563,000 people benefited from improved access to transport. About 1.5 million people had access to improved technology and some 600 production and marketing facilities were constructed. In terms of natural resource management, more than 0.8 million hectares of land have been improved, through replantation/reforestation, benefiting about 19 million people, 45% of whom were women.  Stand-out projects in agricultural infrastructure include the Uganda Community Agricultural Infrastructure Improvement Programme (CAIIP) that won the US Treasury Honors for Development Impact in 2013, the Ethiopia Koga Irrigation Development Project, the West Africa NERICA Rice Project (winner of the US Treasury Honors in 2014). The Bank has also supported resilience building projects including its Drought Resilience and Livelihoods Support Programmes in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.

Going forward, for the Bank to contribute to unlock the potential of agriculture for sustained and inclusive growth in Africa, there is need for multi-sector investments in agriculture using an integrated value chain approach. This implies greater attention to both horizontal and vertical integration in all relevant value chains. This includes addressing constraints and opportunities faced by farmers and producers; strengthening the delivery of business and financial services; enabling the flow of information; facilitating improved markets and agro-processing infrastructures; and, improving farmers’ skills and linkages to markets. The Bank’s new agricultural strategy under processing (2015-2019) will continue to focus on investments in agricultural infrastructure, resilience building and natural resources management, in addition to a new pillar focusing on agribusiness and innovation.

Concretely, to what extent would you confirm that the Bank’s level of support to RMCs has met the goal of the 2010-2014 Agriculture Sector Strategy (AgSS)?

Chiji Ojukwu: Available  evidence  from our recently concluded Agriculture Sector Strategy (2010-2014) indicated  that overall, the Bank group operations met or exceeded 75% of its targets for activities pertaining to its two pillars of promoting agriculture infrastructure development; and increasing resilience and natural resource management. 

We need to do more on promoting cross cutting areas, such as gender equality and on capacity building. Hence our renewed focus on promoting gender equality in the sector through all Bank’s interventions at the regional, national and local and project levels. The new agriculture strategy has also identified gender equality as one of the cross cutting issues in the agricultural investments and directs dedicated funds to support projects and programs that assist women and youth in agriculture, agribusiness and natural resources management. We are working on a number of flagship activities with the Office of the Gender Envoy aimed at strengthening Bank Group support to women empowerment, especially in the agriculture sector where most of the rural women work and derive the family livelihoods.

Results of Africa’s agriculture and resources management are reported to have been less impressive than expected. What should be the new approach? In other words, how would the Bank need to work differently to have more stories with a view to meeting Africa’s transformational agenda?

Chiji Ojukwu: The sector’s productivity is about 36 % of its real potential. Food insecurity and under-nutrition are widespread and persistent, particularly in rural areas and among women and children.

In response to these challenges, this new agriculture and agribusiness strategy builds upon the priorities, achievements and lessons from the 2010-2014 AgSS, which came to an end in December, 2014. It aims at affirming the role of the agriculture sector as an agent for the Bank’s response to Africa’s development and as a key channel for delivering the Bank’s Ten Year Strategy (2013-2022). This TYS focuses on inclusive growth and transitioning to green growth. It supports Africa’s vision to become a stable, integrated and prosperous continent; with competitive, diversified and growing economies; fully participating in global trade and investment; and becoming the next emerging market and growth pole. The five core operational priorities of the TYS are: (i) Infrastructure development; (ii) Regional integration (iii) Private sector development; (iv) Governance and accountability; and, (v) Skills and technology. In implementing the TYS, the Bank will pay particular attention to fragile states, agriculture and food security, and gender.

Our new agriculture and agribusiness strategy  will therefore: (i) continue supporting agriculture  infrastructure development across Africa, with gender sensitive features; (ii) enhance firm-level enterprise development support; specifically in the promotion and development of agricultural value chains; by integrating small and medium agricultural producers with exporters in high-value agricultural value chains (HVACs) that have the potential to increase and stabilize farm incomes in regional and international markets;  and iii) increasing and enhancing  resilience agricultural production towards ending hunger on the continent by 2025; (iv) move towards market-oriented agriculture away from subsistence agriculture, using the value-chain approach, and; (v) build resilience of social capital and natural resources. Special emphasis will be given to youth engagement in agribusiness.

Specialists suggest that the Bank needs to look beyond conventional sources of financing and lessen risks of lending to agriculture, as well as developing new and more appropriate public and private sector financial products, and explore alternative resource mobilization sources such as India, Brazil, China and Argentina. What is your take?

Chiji Ojukwu: The quantum of funds required to move the sector forward in Africa is enormous. And as such the Bank through its strategy proposes to further strengthen the cooperation and partnership with other development agencies including other Multilateral Development (MDBs) Banks as well as International Financial Institutions (IFIs). Already the Bank is mobilizing additional resources for the sector through such partnership with the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GASFP), the resources from Climate Investment Funds, etc., in addition to our traditional windows of the African Development Bank (AfDB), African Development Fund (ADF) and the Nigeria Trust Fund (NTF). We take co-financing with our partners very seriously. The Bank will strengthen the mobilization of resources from new strategic bilateral partners (who are now serious players in Africa’s development agenda) particularly Brazil, China and India, especially towards growing the interest of the private sector in Africa’s agricultural value chains. We are already employing the new Chinese Fund (AGTF) to co-finance our AfDB lending in the sector. The Bank can also play advisory roles to the RMCs in their efforts to mobilize additional resources from the private sector, other MDBs well as bilateral donors. The revised credit policy has helped us to deepen our investments in emerging RMCs with access to the AfDB window. The bottom line of Bank support in the sector is to now do agriculture as a business, to help to grow Africa and to rapidly tackled food insecurity, as well as use agriculture as conduit for creating employment.

During the 2015 Annual Meeting, which will bring together distinguished figures from business, politics and leading research institutes, the Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department will hold an event on Agribusiness for youth employment.