27 March 2012

New Report Finds Agriculture Promotes African Economic Growth

A new report says African agriculture can contribute to sustained global economic growth. But it says there must first be greater investment in farming, markets and social development.

The Montpellier Panel, made up of European agricultural experts, is calling for “growth with resilience” in Africa.

“If you look at African countries now you’ll see that large numbers of them are growing very well. The average growth rate for the whole of Africa is about six percent. But there are many that are growing faster. And a key component of that growth is agricultural development. So that is all very good,” said Sir Gordon Conway, panel chair and professor of international development at Imperial College London.

On the other hand, Conway said, there are threats to that development.

“There are some terrible pests and diseases that destroy crops virtually overnight in Africa. There are all the problems arising from global warming. There are likelihoods of increased drought, of rising temperatures and of course extreme events of major flooding or heat waves. And all of these mean that the growth by itself is not going to be enough,” he said.


The Montpellier Panel is recommending a three-part strategy: resilient markets, resilient agriculture and resilient people.

“What Africa ought to look at is the potential for growth with resilience. Resilience being the capacity to cope with these threats of many kinds. And we also argue that the resilience has to be built in right from the outset. It’s not something you can just sort of tag on at the end. So the future lies really with having these two components welded together – growth and resilience,” said Conway.

He added resilient markets reduce food price volatility, attract more investors and encourage greater productivity for smallholder farmers. Resilient agriculture, he says, requires partnerships involving governments, the private sector and NGOs to reduce land and water degradation and increase climate smart farming techniques.

“You’ve got to have good, enabling environments that allow new technologies to be adopted. But most important, you need technologies that will give you the resilience and the production at the same time. Some of these can come from agro-ecology. Things like mixed cropping or micro-dosing or so on. Or they can come from new crop breeds, which will give you tolerance if not resistance to drought and flooding and so on,” he said.

The Montpellier Panel describes resilient people as those “able to provide stable incomes, adequate nutrition and good health in the face of recurrent stresses and shocks.”

“You need better nutrition, particularly for young children in Africa. Something like 50 percent of the children in Africa, in many countries, are stunted. And if they get better nutrition then they’re more resilient to diseases,” he said.

The recommendations, said Conway, will take political will to implement, both from donor governments and the African leadership. He says a growing number of African leaders are investing in agricultural. He describes Ghana as a shining example of how investments spur economic growth.

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