Despite the promise and force of globalization as a powerful engine for economic transformation, hardworking subsistence farmers have been left behind due to insufficient skills, said Nobel Laureate and Harvard Professor, Eric Maskin during a roundtable debate themed, The way forward to transforming Africa’s agriculture.
He opined that Africa’s agricultural workers should be able to benefit from globalization if deliberate policies are in place and said that a major priority should be to raise skills levels through measures such as incentives to agricultural companies that invest in the development of agricultural workers, as well as creating opportunities for sending their children to school to eliminate child labour.
The Nobel Laureate underscored the role of government in providing subsidies to companies in exchange for training their workers, citing Brazil as an example of a country that has put in place measures to address inequality.
Moderated by CNBC Africa’s Wole Famurewa, the roundtable took place on Monday, December 5, 2016, Day 1 of the 11th African Economic Conference in Abuja. The panelists – Maskin, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, UN Economic Commission for Africa Acting Executive Secretary Abdalla Hamdok, United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye and Nigerian Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Audu Innocent Ogbeh – debated a number of issues including rural neglect and losses incurred due to poor infrastructure. They broadly decried the billions of dollars wasted from importation of concentrated juice while mangoes rot in rural areas.
As noted by Dieye, in order to address post-harvest loss, the lack of management of waste and the persistent harmful grain storage practices, “farmers must be supported, subsidized and educated on raising productivity, processing and value addition.”
For his part, Hamdok said Africa’s rural areas are severely neglected and he lamented the absence of most banks in rural areas. Furthermore, said Hamdok, “85% of Africa’s agriculture labour force comprises women, who suffer extreme gender bias in terms access to credit and financing.” He said that new dynamics of planning and a stronger role for governments could address the neglect.
“Deliberate policies and investment in innovation and R&D is critical to making meaningful headway along the value chain and addressing market failures,” he added.
AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina also lamented the losses incurred in agriculture and underscored the need to tackle poor infrastructure and the lack of local industrial capacity closer to farms. He highlighted the Banks’ efforts in developing market information so that farmers can have more direct access to buyers through mobile phones and the need to improve roads and access to electricity to drive down the cost of business.
Adesina also gave examples of the innovations underway, such as in Ethiopia where the commodity sector has spawned additional linkages and benefits in transport and logistics, banking and financial services as well as economies of scale in terms of quantity, payment and delivery.
Responding to a point made by Dieye on the neglect of Africa’s rural areas contributing to terrorism and the imperative of feeding ourselves as a matter of national security, Adesina stressed the need establish rural economic zones to attract young people. “We must make agriculture cool for young people; through skills, finance and venture capital,” he said.
He also noted that the risk of lending needs to be reduced, especially for women, adding: “There is no future for agriculture if women are not financed.”
Optimism concluded the debate, as Adesina pointing out that Africa’s youth, if allowed to participate effectively in agro-allied industries, are the future billionaires.