Knowledge for a sustainable world

Ben Bennett, Joshua Muhumuza

Urgent policy action is necessary if several African countries are to achieve the targets of the Malabo Declaration on African Agriculture. Recognising this, the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) organised a discussion forum to deliberate on current challenges in meeting these targets.

The forum brought together a distinguished panel of speakers to share ideas on how various actors can accelerate policy change to fast-track implementation and promote growth, investment and resilience. The meeting, hosted by Lord Cameron of Dillington at the House of Lords, Westminster, on 22 May 2023, was attended by 32 participants, including three Lords and a member of parliament from Ghana.

Speakers and participants at the forum; from left to right, Lord Boateng, Prof. Sheryl Hendriks, Dr Apollos Nwafor, Lord Cameron of Dillington, Hon. Dr. Godfred Jasaw and Lord OatesAdopted by African Heads of State and Governments in 2014, the Malabo Declaration reconfirmed that agriculture is a key policy initiative for African economic growth and poverty reduction and should remain high on the continent’s development agenda. The Declaration, which builds on the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), sets specific targets and a clear framework for monitoring progress in achieving them – through a biennial review process instituted by the African Union Commission (AUC). Meeting these targets has become even more critical and urgent as a result of COVID-19, which disrupted national and global food supply systems and exposed many vulnerable households to food insecurity. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has also exposed the vulnerability of African countries that rely on food imports, especially of staple grains. Boosting domestic production and improving subregional supply systems are critical in ensuring resilient response to these and other shocks, including those triggered by climate change.

Speaking to the forum, Dr. Godfrey Bahiigwa, Director, Agriculture and Rural Development at the African Union Commission (AUC) lamented the lack of progress in Africa. ‘How do we create food security and reduce (Africa’s) import bill?’, he wondered. He cited multiple underlying challenges particularly in high import countries, which were driving up the import bill, including war in Africa and beyond, climate change and pests and diseases. To avert these problems, Dr. Bahiigwa pointed to the African common position through CAADP and the Malabo commitments as an opportunity to find common ground for action. The Malabo commitments include African governments committing 10% of national expenditure to agriculture, achieving climate resilience by 2025, ending hunger and reducing child stunting among others and reporting on actions and results every three years. Notably, he challenged African countries to catch up as the continent is not on track to meet these targets. For example, of the 55 members, only Rwanda is on track to meet the Malabo targets.

Echoing Dr. Bahiigwa’s qualms, Dr. Apollos Nwafor, Vice President for Policy and State Capability at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), expressed disappointment at the slow progress. He highlighted the scarcity of data to drive a policy shift, the need for a political economy approach, weak absorptive capacity of institutions, and unstructured informal markets as notable challenges to be addressed. Dr. Nwafor suggested that countries focus on certain priority targets. He suggested a rethink of market systems and the causes of price volatility, the constraints on trade such as non-tariff barriers, and the provision of effective institutional support. Food systems indictors like nutrition, resilience and health should form a core part of this re-conceptualisation process, if not already integrated. He advocated for a new approach to agricultural transformation where national food systems are data driven and the young demographic is considered as a driver rather than an impediment to agricultural development. 

While discussing the role of legislators and academia in catalysing policy reforms in Africa’s agriculture, Hon. Dr. Godfred Jasaw emphasised the value of advocacy and the responsibility of academia in evidence creation. Dr. Jasaw, a Member of Parliament and Vice Chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee of the Parliament of Ghana, called for parliamentary champions. He, however, cautioned that parliamentarians need evidence. He recommended clear trade policies and prioritisation, and policy alignment to address issues of policy inconsistencies and poor coordination among stakeholders.

NRI Director, Professor Sheryl Hendriks, noted that the African Union and countries have made commendable efforts to integrate an increasing number of considerations into their CAADP plans and the Biennial Review mechanisms, including nutrition, resilience and social protection. However, analytical models are needed in order to understand if the proposed actions to address these aspects will lead to positive change. Further, changing dynamics in donor funding need to be considered. Unlike the era when CAADP was launched, donor funding for development is severely constrained, as are African national budgets. Prof. Hendriks also noted that the Malabo declaration is out of step with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ending ahead of the SDGs. Africa’s common position on the SDGs influenced the SDG negotiations and there is an opportunity for Africa to influence the next iteration of the SDGs. She highlighted that there was much to learn, citing for instance, that early implementation of the CAADP plans would have prevented dependency on Russia and Ukraine for the supply of food staples that could be produced domestically, reducing import bills and providing much-needed livelihoods and incomes for smallholders and traders.

Prof. Hendriks recommended breaking down bottlenecks such as the energy challenges that are critical for addressing perishability, value addition, and post-harvest losses. There is scope for more investment in research and development to support the CAADP agenda. Only seven countries have met the Malabo target of investing at least 1% of their national budget on research and development.

During the discussion, a question was raised on postharvest losses. Dr Gideon Onumah of NRI commented that postharvest issues have fallen behind in the share of agricultural investment, although recent advances in measuring losses have demonstrated their seriousness. Lord Boateng spoke about the failure of successive governments in Africa to match their ambitions with actions, highlighting inconsistencies in internal policy and external donor support. Dr. Bahiigwa emphasised the importance of preparation and consultation for the post-Malabo commitments coming in 2023/24.

From parliamentary champions, to rethinking market systems, to data driven policies, the African agricultural transformation challenge remains enormous. Fora like this are essential for generating and valorising ideas. However, dedicated commitment and action from all actors is key to achieving significant impact on this multifaceted issue. NRI remains a leader in research, developing and adapting solutions to challenges across food, agriculture and the environment to support sustainable livelihoods with a focus on developing and emerging economies. For example, our work on food systems covers challenges and opportunities relating to the range of activities from food production to consumption, while our research at the interface of society and environment takes a keen interest in poverty reduction, equity and sustainability. As we tackle these urgent global challenges, we are also cognizant of our Director, Prof. Hendriks’ caution against ‘one size fits all’ development solutions. Indeed, to confront challenges as complex as agricultural transformation, a concerted effort from legislators, policymakers, private sector players, civil society actors and academia will be critical.