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MG Africa

This article reflects on the status and progress made in the revitalisation of the agriculture sector in Africa. It looks at the challenges that make it difficult to increase food productivity, create decent employment, and end inequalities in our food systems, and what it will take to transform agriculture in Africa.

Studies by Food and Agriculture Organisation continue to show that agriculture could be the gateway to poverty elimination and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa. However, the sector has not attained the transformation threshold required to increase productivity, income levels, create employment for Africa’s youthful population and eliminate poverty. Hunger is increasing and climate change is further eroding our ability to feed the continent, while at the same time reversing the gains we have realised towards agricultural development.

A decade of CAADP

Efforts to transform African agriculture saw the enactment of the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security and the launch of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) in 2003. With the objective of increasing public investment in agriculture, CAADP committed African governments to allocate a minimum of 10 percent of their annual budgets to agriculture. A decade of implementing this declaration did not deliver the 10% annual national budget allocation target and the benefits envisioned, for example, a projected annual agricultural growth rate of six percent according to the State of the Union Compliance Report, 2014.

As a result, African governments recommitted to meet the goals set in the Maputo Declaration under the Malabo Declaration of 2014. However, to guarantee success under the Malabo Declaration the mistakes of the yester decade of CAADP implementation warrant serious reflection.

The record on lack of political will and government commitment to implement CAADP speaks for itself. By the end of 2015, only 28 states in Africa had ratified the Maputo Declaration. Domestication of CAADP has been slow, with many countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, Tunisia and Sao Tome yet to even begin. Those that have started have registered woefully low investment. Nigeria, for instance, allocated less than 1% of the national budget to agriculture in 2015. During the decade of Maputo Declaration the government of Kenya allocated 3.6% of its budget to agriculture. This trend is replicated in many countries. In addition, failure to develop the envisaged National Agricultural Investment Plans (NAIPs) and put in place institutions and systems to implement them has been particularly key in derailing progress under CAADP.

During CAADP sensitisation workshops in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in 2015, about 96% of participants reported having no knowledge of what CAADP is, yet most of them are small holder farmers who should be among the main beneficiaries of CAADP. The hallmark principle that we should “leave no one behind” in implementing Vision 2030, the post-MDGs agenda for transformative development, and CAADP has not been matched with action.  The poor in rural and fragile areas are not able to take part in social, economic and political development. African citizens, their formations and Civil Society Organisations continue to be marginalised in the implementation of CAADP. Since the June 2015 African Union summit, the space for African citizens and farmers to engage in CAADP implementation and discussions around it has been shrinking at an alarming rate. This year, the March, 2016 CAADP Partnership Platform meeting which had on the agenda key discussions on financing for agricultural transformation in Africa was closed to the public. In the same vein, all indications are that the African Union summit in Kigali next month will be a closed affair.


Inequality in our food systems and policy distortions are making it even harder for us to win the war against hunger and malnutrition.  Agriculture and relevant policies are not coherent and gendered enough to recognise and address the roles and challenges that make it difficult for women to produce the same yields as men and participate in governance and decisions that affect their lives. Restrictions on women small holder farmers’ access to productive resources such as land, inputs and finance, and extension services, information and markets, entrench inequality and increase food insecurity in African societies. It also slows down our agrarian economy. The fact that the African Union declared 2015 the year of Women Empowerment has not translated into concrete measures to eliminate gender inequalities in our food system. To date, only 37 countries in Africa that have ratified the Maputo Protocol on Rights of the women (State of the Union Ratification Table, 2015).


There is a huge gap in the use of technology in agriculture, a prerequisite for transformation of our farming systems. Small holder farmers in the rural areas are the most affected. In 2014 while addressing the African Union Joint Conference of Ministers of Agriculture, Rural Development, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mrs Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission said,

“We will have to phase out the hand-hoe if we are to attract the youth into agriculture.  In the     future we want, the right place for the hand-hoe should be a museum”.

She is right. Africa has not done enough to modernize agriculture into a profitable enterprise for the youth to appreciate it and get engaged. Consequently, the youth are being lured into nefarious causes and activities, and many are dying in Mediterranean Sea in search of better lives abroad. The drudgery women go through to feed their families is enormous. Deployment of appropriate technology could ease this burden and free their time to engage in other economic enterprises and self development.  

Investment works but gains must be guarded for all

Agriculture is the foothold many African countries’ economies and the majority of countries that have enjoyed steady economic growth have invested well in revitalization of this sector. Ethiopia and Rwanda, for example, have consistently allocated more than the 10% CAADP budget target towards agriculture. Consequently, their economies have been growing, albeit with most gains captured by a few individuals in the capitals. For us to tip the balance, power needs to shift to the people. Farmers should have the right to engage in implementation of the CAADP, have their priorities captured at the highest levels of decision-making and to participate in equitable sharing of the economic benefits of a transformed agricultural sector.

Towards truly transformed agriculture

African heads of state and governments should focus on the following areas to accelerate agricultural investment and growth, and comprehensively transform the sector for the benefit of all:

  1. Mobilize domestic resources to ensure 10% of national budgets are allocated to agriculture development. This should be matched with concrete implementation timelines and accountability mechanisms that guarantees value for money and prioritise the needs of small scale farmers. Sealing of all loop holes for illicit financial flows and all forms of tax dodging, curbing wastage and improved efficiency would provide resources needed to revitalize agriculture.
  2.  Gender responsive planning and budgeting:  Involvement of small scale farmer’s, particularly women farmers, in the whole public financial management and budget planning cycle would assist governments in discerning their needs and enable joint development of suitable programs for the local their context. Participation of smallholder farmers would also provide useful feedback for governments to continue improving their programs.  Government expenditure information should be made available to all and realistic timelines agreed for public participation in planning and budgeting processes. 
  3. Elimination of all forms of gender inequality in food systems: African states must eliminate gender inequalities in access to all economic resources and services. Small holder farmers should take part in planning and resource allocation. There should be women involvement in decision making forums, policy reforms, affirmative action and investment in local foods grown by women.
  4. Strengthen small holder women farmers and marginalized groups right to land regardless of tenure regime: Realization of land rights for all  especially for women and indigenous people could be achieved by domestication and implementation of the African Union framework on Large Scale Land Based Investment in Agriculture and the World Food Security Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure. These guidelines safeguard and promote land rights for the local communities and women irrespective of tenure systems.
  5.  Inclusive policy formulation, implementation and monitoring of CAADP: Governments and the regions need to focus on improving the coordination of different ministries working on agriculture.  Policy processes should be inclusive and reoriented towards women farmers in the whole value chain. Joint sector reviews are good mechanisms for reviewing CAADP progress and all segments of society must be involved. However, very few countries conduct the reviews. Each country should choose indicators that work for them and establish mechanisms for tracking them to be able to measure the results achieved.
  6. Research and technological advancement: States should mobilise funds for women family farmers’ empowerment and development to lift them out of poverty.  Research should be context specific, participatory and aligned with the needs of rural farmers. Appropriate technologies that are gender sensitive must be provided at affordable prices to family farmers to usher them into lucrative and less labour intensive agriculture like horticulture and while ensuing value addition. Training and ongoing provision for maintenace should accompany such technologies.
  7. Promotion and investing in sustainable food systems that are resilience to climate change shocks: African agriculture is largely rain fed and not developed to withstand frequent weather shocks. Low investment in agriculture cannot deliver the much needed water for domestic use and farming. The majority of farmers don’t engage in nonfarm enterprises to lean on in the event of crop failure and shocks. This increases their vulnerability to hunger and distress. Climate adaptation should not be seen as a burden to be transferred to wealthy nations. African governments must set aside long-term resilience funds in their national budgets to be directed towards small scale farmers. Farmers must be provided with weather information in easily understandable formats and language, and social protection such as climate risk insurance and food reserves provided for.

* Jessica Mwanzia is Food and Climate Justice Programme Officer in the Oxfam Pan Africa Programme. Andrew Osiany is Research and Policy Officer in the Secretariat of the State of the Union Coalition.



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