Advancing agricultural transformation in Africa

A rural farm in Tanzania, Source: Flickr (tshantz)

At the end of April, together with Ousmane Badiane, Director of IFPRI’s Africa Regional Office, I visited several countries in Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa, talking with key institutions and decision makers about major food and nutrition security issues.  I am pleased to see much progress has been made in agriculture and food production, but many challenges still remain. Demand for IFPRI’s research is stronger than ever.  We must position ourselves to address these demands.

My first stop was the University of Pretoria, South Africa, where IFPRI held the African launch of the 2012 Global Food Policy Report. As both an emerging and the most developed African country, South Africa has an important role to play in combatting global food and nutrition insecurity, as well as accelerating agricultural transformation in Africa.

To do so, South Africa would have to sustainably increase public investment to agriculture, especially on research and development; promote open regional trade; stimulate South-South knowledge sharing; continue to scale up investments in productive safety nets; and strengthen national and regional capacities in agricultural higher education and research. In particular, government policy must focus on smallholders which were totally neglected by the Apartheid Government—a situation which has not changed much since—and leverage their potential to increase job opportunities, reduce poverty in rural areas, and stimulate overall economic growth.

After South Africa, I met with donors and government officials in Mozambique. As one of the world’s least developed countries with a large rural population, agricultural development remains central to Mozambique’s food security and poverty reduction efforts. Increasing foreign direct investment, especially in land to increase staple crop production will be important to boost agricultural transformation.  Public policy must be designed and implemented to ensure smallholders benefit from these investments, and that national food security and the sustainable use of natural resources is further enhanced.

Next was Tanzania where I met with several key stakeholders and visited the Economic and Social Research Foundation in Dar es Salaam. There I gave a talk on important actions needed to ensure food and nutrition security in Tanzania. It will be crucial for the country to transform and improve the productivity of its smallholder agriculture through investments in research and development, infrastructure, and improved access to inputs; climate-smart agriculture; and productive social protection. Strengthening national research and policy making capacities as well as supporting open trade and regional cooperation will also be essential.  I was glad to note that with research conducted by IFPRI and various partners, the Tanzanian government restrained the use of food export bans in 2012.

Later, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I met with top government officials, donors, and partners to discuss ways to enhance our collaboration.  The DRC has immense untapped agricultural potential with an abundance of fertile land and other natural resources. If unleashed, the country could reduce its own hunger and poverty significantly, as well as contribute to the food security of other countries in Africa. I am also proud to report IFPRI Senior Research Fellow, John Ulimwengu, is currently serving as Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister of Agriculture and Food on related issues for the country.

The transformation of African agriculture, especially smallholder agriculture, will be critical to the continent’s future food security and overall economic development. IFPRI, together with our partners, must further deepen work to strengthen countries’ capacity in data collection, monitoring and evaluation, analysis, and policy dialogues, so that decisions are made based on evidence.