Making agriculture a business can help solve African cities’ problems, says AfDB President Adesina

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Sipho Moyo, Chief of Staff and Director of Cabinet (AfDB), Mo Ibrahim, Chair of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and Akinwumi Adesina, President  of AfDB

Increasing slums with poor social services, lack of access to water and sanitation, growing insecurity, air pollution, huge traffic congestion, are  among key challenges facing African cities.  The issues were discussed on Saturday, 21 November in Accra, Ghana by policy makers, practitioners, members of the civil society, local government officials, and representatives of development institution, including African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina.  He was on a panel which discussed the development of African cities around the theme “African Urban Dynamics.”  The meeting was organized by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Adesina noted that people, especially the youth leave rural arears for cities not because they like cities as such but simply because they lack opportunities in their rural environments.  More importantly, they do not get the expected returns from their agricultural activities. The situation is made worse by the lack basic services which human beings are entitled to such as infrastructure, health and education.  Therefore, one way of solving the challenges of cities is to slow down the flow of people to urban areas is to make rural areas attractive by turning agriculture into an attractive venture. 

There has to be a change on how agriculture is perceived. It should be seen as a business that can raise farmers’ incomes, and improve their status beyond that of simply managing poverty. “We must ensure that small farmers, the majority of whom are women, are supported to have accelerated access to improved farm inputs in order to raise agricultural productivity.  If agriculture works we can keep the young people in rural areas. Making agriculture a business would then help solve some of African cities’ problems,” Adesina said 

On other issues such as traffic congestion, the AfDB President said that so much productivity is lost in urban areas when people spend hours in traffic on the highways to get to work. On air pollution, he said it is a situation that needs to be looked at seriously in terms of ensuring good quality of life in the cities. To tackle the numerous challenges, Adesina also suggested innovative financing solutions as well as capacity building for city planning and management. “We need to manage our resources well, make sure taxes are well managed, and take good decisions.  This will help solve our problems,” he said.

Other solutions suggested by the panel include the participation of citizens in the management of cities. This will make them more responsible as they become part of the solution as stakeholders and not just recipients of services.   “Citizens need to be framed to be partners in managing cities. They should be engaged in terms knowing where the money goes, and what sectors to focus on,” said Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director at Greenpeace international.

The panel was chaired by Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University.  Other members included Aisa Kirabo (Deputy Executive Director, Assistant Secretary General of UN-Habitat) and Henri-Bernard Solignac-Lecomte (Head of Unit, Europe, Middle East and Africa for the OECD Development Centre).  The discussions were moderated by Zeinab Badawi, presenter at the BBC.