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Inaugural conference discusses the role of research in transforming Africa’s agriculture

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) with its partners held an inaugural two-day conference to discuss the continent’s agricultural potential and how to address constraints that continue to hamper the sector’s performance.

The December 4 to 5, 2015 event, held jointly with the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), Cornell University, the Partnership for Economic Policy (PEP), Korean Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) and the World Bank, took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Its theme was “Structural Transformation of African Agriculture and Rural Spaces (STAARS)”. The meeting was one of the activities which underscore a key priority area of the AfDB, which is to “Feed Africa”.

Among other things, the conference interrogated policy responses necessary to improve performance of Africa’s agricultural industry. It recognized AfDB’s convening power and prioritization of agriculture as an engine of growth, fostering food security and poverty reduction on the continent. The event follows a high level conference on agricultural transformation held in Dakar in October 2015, which was convened by the AfDB.

The Addis Ababa event attracted top tier and emerging researchers from around the world, high-level policymakers, private-sector practitioners and financiers. They discussed key policy questions and the relevance of in-depth, rigorous research on various aspects of the agricultural sector such as productivity and income growth, asset accumulation, and effective risk management.

In his keynote address, Wondirad Mandefro, State Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources of Ethiopia, welcomed AfDB’s renewed agenda on transforming the agricultural sector to increase food security on the continent. Noting the current food crisis in Ethiopia, he stressed the importance of accounting for climate change, increasing agricultural investments, learning from other countries’ best practices, and improving synergies between agricultural knowledge generation and policies.

In their opening remarks, the chief delegates of the five partner institutions highlighted the paradoxical feature of Africa’s economy, characterised by rapid urbanisation and unprecedented economic growth, high rates of poverty, and food insecurity, and vulnerability. They emphasized the urgent need to undertake rigorous applied research and build capacity of African researchers to better inform policies.

The presentations in different parallel sessions covered various aspects relating to the micro-foundations of structural transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa using high quality, nationally representative and publicly available datasets, such as the Living Standards Measurement Studies – Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA), which have not been fully exploited.

The authors highlighted key factors undermining Africa’s agricultural sector and explaining the extent of the agricultural productivity trap the continent has been drawn into for many decades. A number of challenges were identified, relating to technology, access to land and markets, financing, investment climate and policy uncertainty and gender inequality, among others.

The presentations were capped by a high-level policy roundtable, chaired by Lemma Senbet, Executive Director of AERC, and featured Gabriel Negatu, the Director of East African Regional Resource Centre of the AfDB; Victor Manyong, the R4D Director for Eastern Africa, IITA; Chris Barrett of Cornell University; Danbala Danju, Managing Director and CEO of Bank of Agriculture in Nigeria; and Shimite Bello, the Founder and President of Quintessential Group in Nigeria, an initiative that focuses on women and youth participation in the agriculture value chain.

The panellists noted that tackling market distortions and failures was a promising solution to increasing agricultural productivity and improving farmers’ well-being. They also emphasized that government intervention must be limited to correcting market failures and protecting vulnerable groups. Of importance, they noted, was the issue of closing the agricultural technology gap in Africa, which could spur a Green Revolution in Africa for enhanced food security and improved rural incomes. This though, they stressed, would require strong private sector investment and innovative financing instruments to de-risk the agricultural sector.

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