Three take-away messages from the African Union Summit in Malabo on agriculture and food security – Was the recent African Union (AU) Summit theme of Agriculture and Food Security just symbolic in nature?

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      Simply because we are currently in the African Union Year of Agriculture and Food Security, or did something substantial come out of it? Here are three key takeaways, from the summit of Heads of State and Government that took place at the end of June 2014 in Malabo, that deserve attention.

      1. The Heads of State and Government agreed on an ambitious set of goals and targets

      Contrary to opinions that summit themes are empty shells and hardly accompanied by an intensive agenda, Heads of State and Government adopted a remarkably ambitious set of concrete goals to be reached by 2025, in their ‘Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods’.

      Perhaps most importantly a set of new goals showing a more targeted approach focusing on employment, post harvest losses, climate smart agriculture were agreed. The focus broadened beyond spending and production, with concrete targets for 2025 such as reducing post harvest losses by half, creating job opportunities for at least 30% of the youth in agricultural value chains and ensuring that at least 30% of farm, pastoral and fisher households will be resilient to climate and weather related risks. Much attention also goes out to improving the functioning of agricultural markets and intra-African trade, with an ambitious goal to triple intra-African trade in agricultural commodities.

      The Summit also reconfirms that agriculture should remain high on the development agenda of the continent. In this spirit, AU Chairperson Zuma, in her opening statement of the AU Executive Council, called agriculture and food security ‘a critical priority’ for Africa and a key element of the AU long-term development vision ‘Agenda 2063’ currently under construction. It is considered critical for economic growth and poverty reduction.

      African Heads of State and Government in the Malabo Declaration specifically renew their commitments made more than a decade ago in the context of the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). It is to allocate at least 10% of public spending to agriculture and achieve 6% of annual agricultural growth, even though most AU Member States have not put this into practice so far. Since 2003, only 13 countries have met or surpassed the 10% public spending target in one or more years and overall agricultural production has increased, but remained well below the annual 6% growth target. Chairperson Zuma, in her address to the African leaders, brought this back to the conclusion that, while progress has been made, “we need to do more and to do it faster”.

      2. Private sector development takes centre stage 

      Considerable emphasis is put on agriculture as a business, with calls for increasing private sector investments and value addition. The leaders committed to creating a more enabling environment for private investment in agriculture, agri-business and agro-industries, with a specification that priority will be given to local investors. This seems to be in response to outcries of civil society organisations condemning a primary focus on foreign direct investments as an engine for agricultural growth and transformation.

      In the Malabo Declaration, African leaders also propose to establish and strengthen public-private partnerships ‘with strong linkage to smallholder agriculture’. Not many reactions on the Malabo Declaration are out yet, but some can be expected to laud this commitment for its recognition of smallholders, while others will claim it is too vague a commitment. Importantly, rather than a choice between large scale farming and agri-businesses versus small-scale farmers and Small and Medium Enterprises, they will co-exist, while efforts need to be stepped up to ensure for the latter groups, often the weakest in the value-chains, to benefit.

      3. Translation of commitments into action

      The Malabo Declaration asks the AU Commission and NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA) to develop an implementation strategy and roadmap that facilitates translation of the 2025 vision and goals into reality. This needs to be a focused list with feasible actions that merit to be addressed or coordinated at continental level, according to the subsidiarity principle. It should support dynamics at regional and national and local level, where actual implementation takes place.

      It will require joint action, explaining the call by the African leaders for farmers, agri-businesses, civil society and other African stakeholders to rally behind this agenda. The Malabo Declaration ends with a call on development partners to align their technical and financial support in a harmonized and coordinated manner. If acted upon, the thematic focus of this Summit has been far from meaningless.


      This blog is the opinion of the author and does not nessescary reflect the view of ECDPM

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