Interview with the UNIDO Agri-business Development Director, Sergio Miranda-da-Cruz, on the sideline of the joint preparatory meeting on (HLCD-3), held in Tunis from January 21-22, 2010.

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Sergio Miranda da Cruz

“We continue to think that, it is time now for Africa to generate growth, become competitive, and take charge of its own future. Agriculture is one of the ways ordinary Africans can deliver food to their tables and money to their pocket,” says UNIDO Agri-business Development Director, Sergio Miranda-da-Cruz.

Question: What are the objectives of the High Level Conference on the Development of Agribusiness and Agro-industries (HLCD-3) scheduled to take place in Abuja, Nigeria?

Response: Regarding this conference, we intend to bring together African Heads of state and government, ministers and senior policy-makers, as well representatives of financial institutions in order to discuss and endorse what has been called the ‘African Agribusiness and Agro-industries Development Initiative (3ADI)’. This initiative consists essentially of a ‘Programme Framework’ and an associated ‘Financial Facility’, designed through a series of consultations with African experts and institutions, to promote the development of competitive, sustainable and inclusive agro-industries and agribusiness in Africa as a pathway to increased economic growth and food security on the continent.

Question: Could you tell us what you expect from the AfDB regarding this conference?

Response: In order to carry out the whole programme, UNIDO, FAO and IFAD are collaborating with the AfDB, the African Union Commission (AUC), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Nigerian government. Each of these entities has a special role play and a contribution to make in order to reach the final goal. From the AfDB, we expect to receive technical guidance on the preparation of the above-mentioned ‘Financial Facility’, as it is already happening in this meeting, which has been kindly hosted by AfDB from January 21-22, 2010, and eventually to host the ‘Facility’ as well. The last point is still under discussion, but if by chance it is not possible, the fact that we have been discussing the subject in detail with our colleagues at AfDB will facilitate the identification of a possible host to the ‘Financial Facility’, as already expressed by some regional African financial institutions interested in hosting it.

Question : You may recall that during the 2003 Summit in Maputo, heads of state committed to allocate 10% of their country’s budget to agricultural development. Where do we stand today?

Response: As far as I am aware, few countries have lived up to their commitment. There is an assessment being undertaken at this moment by FAO/AUC that will provide a precise answer on where we stand now. However, we are aware that the majority of African countries have yet to meet the 6% expected agriculture growth. With the conclusion of the FAO/AUC, we will be able to have a better picture on the status of the 10% Maputo commitment.

Question: The heads of state also confirmed their commitments in another meeting in Sirte, Libya. Many people hold that the Libya meeting did not produce desired results. What do you have to say in this regard? Why hold then another meeting in Abuja on March 10, 2010?

Response: You are right! There is a risk. We (the whole group of institutions involved in the organization of this important initiative) as well as the Nigerian government are conscious that we should avoid just another meeting. But please note that investments in agricultural development on the continent have been increasing over the last years, albeit slowly. This is however not at the speed that we all would like to see, which is the target already expressed in Maputo in 2003! What is already known by experts and policy-makers, which has been clearly stated in the Global Agro-industrial Forum (GAIF) organized by FAO, UNIDO and IFAD and hosted by the Indian government in April 2008, is that the driving force behind sound agricultural development is a healthy agro-industrial and agribusiness sector. This is the most effective way to promote growth by adding value to traditional agricultural commodities and generate new job opportunities. In the HLCD-3A, we intend to go one-step ahead by not only identifying the reasons for not having enough investments in agriculture, as you correctly pointed out, but also to come up with concrete proposals to overcome the challenges, including a proposal to increase the flow of funds that you mentioned in your question. This is already expressed in the document that was mentioned above (3ADI), and it is the main rationale behind it.

Question: The challenges of providing financial services to rural areas in a sustained manner seem daunting if not insurmountable. How do you plan to address this difficult situation?

Response: In principle, you are right again when you talk about the challenges of providing sustained financial services to rural areas. But we have to take into account that in several parts of the world, different solutions have been found. And they have been quite successful in several cases. We have to agree that, though not in every situation, most of the solutions have been found in more advanced economies such as the USA, Canada, Australia, and some European countries, among others. But in several developing countries, suitable solutions have also been found. Our point is that we already have successful models in both advanced and less advanced economies. What we need to do now is to analyze them properly and see how to apply them and under which conditions we could use those experiences in other parts of the world that have not yet found sustainable solutions like in the case of several African countries that have the potential to develop their rural areas, but are still struggling with operational mechanisms. The whole idea behind the HLCD-3A is that we move in this direction on this important continent. 

Question: What picture of the conference would you like to give to the continent?

Response: We continue to think that, it is time now for Africa to generate growth, become competitive, and take charge of its own future. Agriculture is one of the ways ordinary Africans can put food on their tables and earn money. Agribusiness and agro-industries can create wealth, new jobs on the continent and shrink poverty. Agricultural advancement can help producers and companies go beyond local markets and secure a niche in the globalized world, and sustainable growth.

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