CAADP's future? Focus on informal private sector and politics!

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      Two weeks ago, in Accra, I attended the CAADP Partnership Platform, the annual event where all stakeholders get together to discuss progress with CAADP implementation. Unfortunately, like in my assessment last year, there was “little walk" on the promise to “walk the talk” and deliver concretely on the agricultural transformation commitments of the AU Malabo Declaration. But probably what happens at this “continental level” doesn’t really matter: CAADP needs to focus now on facilitating results in each African region and country, and allowing the private sector, including smallholder farmers, to be the heroes of this transformation. The Partnership Platform (PP) was organised under the theme Accelerating Implementation of CAADP through Innovative Financing and Renewed Partnerships. To me, the PP was somehow disappointing because, beyond very good presentations on financing and insurance issues, there was no real discussion on what CAADP stakeholders should do to make CAADP more result-oriented. The CEO of NEPAD in his opening speech identified clearly two of the major challenges for the future of CAADP: “taking national and regional agricultural investment plans (NAIPs/RAIPs) from the shelves to the farm [...] renewing CAADP partnerships, which means involving farmers not only in agendas, but in the actual running of the business of agriculture.” I think that ‘taking the bull by the horns’ on the faster implementation of NAIPs and RAIPs and stronger private sector involvement requires a better understanding of the politics around agriculture and the informal parts of African food value chains. One of the key problems of CAADP is that in most countries there is no strong push by politicians and the top-level of government to implement what is envisaged in the NAIP. Testimony to this is that only around 10 countries spend 10% or more of the national budget for agriculture, though it’s a commitment in every NAIP. The preparation of NAIPs/RAIPs is also still largely financed by donors. And often ruling elites simply have no interest in changing the status-quo in agriculture, with many politicians getting more benefits from pleasing voters in the cities (e.g. via cheap food imports), rather than helping local producers in rural areas. The RAIPs also include big regional initiatives to trade more food among neighbours, (e.g. the “Rice Offensive” in West Africa should stimulate local rice to gradually replace imports from Asia), but then national legislations are not changed to implement such regional decisions. So if public investments (e.g. irrigation infrastructure) and regulations (e.g. tariff protection for local producers) are not there, private investors do not follow through either on their part of the public-private partnership approach, which leaves small farmers without any real financing, technological or regulatory support. CAADP implementation needs national champions, and legislators must do much more on land, agricultural finance and trade reforms. But at the PP in Accra, there were only a handful of members of parliament and Ministers of Agriculture and no Ministers of Finance… Another area where much more evidence and discussion is needed in order to effectively support agricultural transformation in Africa is the informal economy. Around 40% of rural households in Africa operate some kind of non-farm informal enterprise and rural employment is increasing substantially in post-harvest segments of food value chains such as processing, logistics, and distribution. Building successful and inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships in Africa, with farmers actually running the business of agriculture, thus requires better understanding –and learning from– the business practices, innovations and priorities of those involved in the informal economy. Without that, rushing the formalisation of largely informal value chains could result in negative impacts for the weaker players. In the Sahel, for instance, women traditionally produce dairy products for their households’ use and for small-scale trading. The recently increased orientation towards the market (and monetisation) in this sector (incentivised by public policies, PPPs, and even donors) has made dairy production and marketing more appealing to men. Although promising economically, this change has dispossessed women of an important source of livelihoods. Maybe this also partly explains why Grow Africa (the CAADP process dedicated to private sector contributions to the agricultural transformation agenda) is generating substantial interest from large companies and foreign investors, but not as substantial attention and benefits for the smaller farmers and other local companies. In 2013 and 2014, Grow Africa has been catalysing –in the 12 countries where it is operational– over $10 billion in private-sector investment commitments (largely foreign, of which over $1.8 billion is already implemented), but creating only around 58,000 jobs. Probably those policies, investments, and PPPs that assume everyone will behave and respond according to a formal/commercial logic do help the formal/well-established parts of the value chains but find it difficult to benefit the most marginal/informal operators. At ECDPM, we’re trying to support this work on political economy analysis and informal private sector engagement, especially through our work on regional food value chains in West and East Africa. There, we help key stakeholders to develop regional public-private platforms for inclusive value chain development as part of the ECOWAS and COMESA CAADP processes. They should include: politically-smart, not only commercially feasible, choices of which value chains to prioritise; assistance to cross-border traders and value chain associations and informal operators like aggregators who know local realities and informal parts of the business hence should be better positioned to engage family farmers with mutual benefits; sound and realistic business models to vertically integrate larger firm's operations and the smaller producers, thus improving both the reliability of smallholders’ supply and the prices those can retain; monitoring frameworks that can really capture the impact of such better coordinated actions on the marginal/informal players. It is at these levels that CAADP implementation really matters. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.
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