The farmer, an entrepreneur like any other

African agriculture is no longer a traditional way of life, it is a business. And like any other, it will grow, through investment and access to markets. The African farmer, like any other entrepreneur, and perhaps even more so, needs to take into account the uncertain nature of business. The farmer will be at the mercy of market flux and climate change. They will need to access finance, manage their own accounts, and diversify their assets, or perish.

The energy, the ideas and the motivation are there but not every good idea will be funded. The continent has yet to produce enough productive and profitable small businesses. According to the World Bank sub-Saharan Africa has only a quarter as many small businesses as Asia, relative to its population. Government borrowing drives up interest rates for everybody else. Interest rates to farmers in parts of East and West Africa can be as high as 20-45%. The World Bank found that only 1% of Nigerian farmers borrowed to buy fertiliser last year since small farmers find credit access difficult. But mobile technology is changing this, opening new and more advantageous lending rates to farmers. Governments and investors are also channelling huge investments into infrastructure and power, initiatives facilitated by NEPAD.

There are also many opportunities to be exploited in doing simple things for local markets. Better management skills, more judicious use of fertilisers are key skills that can be made widely available. Hybrid seeds, in particular, which are being developed in Africa for Africans, hold much promise. Governments and NGOs are rapidly teaching farmers how to plant the new seeds. One-stop-shops such as the charity One Acre Fund, in Rwanda, provide their clients with seeds, fertiliser, know-how and credit. Creating facilities to allow farmers to store crops securely and the opportunity for food processing near farms will help reduce waste as well as provide decent paying jobs.

Social networks are also primordial to the success of entrepreneurial farmers. There is a correlation between strong social networks and flourishing business. Our role models need to be flagged especially in those areas where there are few successful companies that would-be entrepreneurs can aspire to, or few successful friends in business who can be sought out for advice.

We have witnessed a different kind of farmer through the success story of Rotimi Williams, the ambitious 35 year-old Nigerian entrepreneur and rice farmer. Previously a journalist, Williams is the owner of Kereksuk Rice Farm, the second largest commercial rice farm in Nigeria by land size. Having lived and worked abroad for a while, he returned to Nigeria with no farming training but with a willingness to learn. He trained himself through every article he could find on Google and then put these skills into practice. His farm of 45,000 hectares employs today more than 600 locals, leveraging on a sense of community and remaining attuned to the cultural approach of the indigenes to farming.

Agriculture is a business and promoting smallholder agriculture does not preclude the promotion of ambitious large scale, commercial farming for Africa.

 

 

 

Technological leapfrogging: the other side of the coin

The technological leap has been one of the big themes of the African economic history for the past 10 years. Today, it represents a huge transformative potential insofar as infrastructure development and socio-economic challenges are concerned.

Africa has, indeed, taken the bull by the horns in embracing mobile technology, demonstrating leadership in innovation in the mobile ecosystem. Mobile penetration across the continent is high at 60%, and more than 50% of those users have access to the internet. Africans develop services and apps for the continent, providing information on market prices, weather, health and even good farming practice. Drones are becoming more widely available with prices starting as low as $300. They can help farmers with mapping their land, with construction and mining, even market research. Parts of Africa have already come a long way in developing mobile money payment systems that give the unbanked millions a chance to move into the formal economy.

We will likely see transformations that touch the fundamental aspects of our lives in ways we cannot yet expect, all made possible by the presence of the mobile phone on a continent with limited infrastructure.

Nonetheless, the following anecdote illustrates the caveats in relation to technology. Nji Collins Gbah, 17-year old Cameroonian, is Google’s new coding champion. He is a first African and one of 34 winners of the annual global Google Code-in competition. But Nji Collins Gbah’s hometown in Cameroon has been cut off from internet since mid-January.

It is important to not generalize or count on the transformational power of technological leaps in a naïve fashion. Technology will not take care of everything. Africa also needs basic services before it can use high-tech solutions, a minimal of infrastructure and government policy. We will need national and regional plans to incorporate the Digital Economy into our overall business strategy. South Africa, Botswana and Kenya have taken the lead to flesh out ICT plans and infrastructure. There are now growing expectations on African countries, conscious of the success of Silicon Savannah, to follow suit.

A big hurdle that technology innovation faces in Africa is access to energy. About 620 million Africans live without access to electricity. Yet mobile phones need to be charged and transmitter towers need power. Limited infrastructure on the ground also leads to congested mobile networks. Further constraints presented by data costs, regulation, and financing, have proved a drag to start-ups.

Our cities remain crowded, fragmented and disconnected. This means that commercial, industrial and housing infrastructure investment has been unable to keep up with the rise in urban population. The result is that congestion and the associated costs currently outdo the expected benefits of urban concentration. Effective urban planning and coordinated infrastructure investments should be prioritized strategies in helping Africa’s cities.

Having the tools for high-tech solutions is one side of the coin, talent creation, training people to use the tools is the other side. We have a demographic advantage with more than 70% of the rapidly urbanising population under 30. This young population wants nothing more than a phone, access to information and a chance to create something new. Investing in our human capital through excellent training is the precursor to capitalizing on technology.

The coproduction of public policy, a route for innovation in Africa

Public-private partnerships are key to the sustained development of Africa. But here is another partnership framework, deserving of our full attention and investment, one that will improve good governance, productivity and efficiency.

We can no longer look at policy through the lenses of the model of governance of the early postcolonial days. It is no longer a small patrimonial elite that has the prerogative to think through a national vision for the people. Whereby in the previous top-down model, citizens were seen as passive consumers of the public services created and delivered by governments, co-production revalorizes citizens as key agents with the capacity to co-create policies. Public policy then becomes a shared responsibility, benefiting from the buy in of the people and leading towards better outcomes in the long run.

We will achieve so much more through this route. For example, NGOs will be more likely to participate in the execution of those policies that they have helped to shape. This paradigms shift needs to take place across the public and private sectors. While a number of private companies have shown a willingness to invest into Corporate Social Responsibility, they do not always consult the communities whose lives they wish to impact. This gap in communication, buy in, pertinence and engagement results in wasted opportunities for both parties.

Local financial partners and impact investors are also key actors in this revamped policy model. The South African Royal Bafokeng Holdings is a sovereign wealth fund and a community-based investment company whose growth uplifts and creates wealth for the Royal Bafokeng Nation, a 100,000 strong Setswana-speaking community. It is considered to be Africa’s most progressive community investment model, with total assets under management at approximately $4 billion (http://www.bafokeng.com). They are also driving diversified and sustainable economic activity by recruiting several manufacturing companies to expand the nation’s exports beyond raw materials and natural resources.

The solutions we bring and the opportunities we create must clearly draw from existing African assets. There is wisdom in working with the grain by involving influential and traditional institutions. Another such inspiring example is the Lebou Community in Senegal. Their traditional system has guaranteed the access of all members to existing resources while also overseeing conservation and sustainable development. Their collective management of natural and human resources is an African model to the rest of the continent and to the world.

We have recently seen the role of the Catholic Church as an agent in brokering political stability in DRC. In December 2016, when the political crisis broke out leading to the death of dozens of civilians, it was the Catholic Church that negotiated a successful and peaceful transition deal, saving the country from havoc. There is no reason why their voices should not be heard beyond politics in matters of investment and public policy.

There is room to go even further in this experiment of co-production of public policy. For it to be a truly innovative and creative space, we must quickly engage the youth as actors of their own lives and agents of the future. Across the world, the gap between the expectations of the youth and the delivery of policy makers is growing, but it is also one that provides an innovative platform, and the more so on the youngest continent of the planet.

 

 

Africa’s future depends on its scientists. Time to stop the brain drain

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Article written by: Ameenah Gurib-Fakim President of the Republic of Mauritius, Office of the President of Mauritius, Thomas Kariuki Director, African Academy of Sciences, Ibrahim Mayaki CEO, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)

Africa’s future lies in the hands of its scientists. From urbanisation to agriculture, climate change to pandemics, Africa needs science, technology and innovation (STI) to secure a prosperous and sustainable future. The continent must urgently reverse the brain drain of its talented researchers and ramp up its education and expertise, so that Africa’s problems can be solved by Africa’s people. 

At the World Economic Forum this week, we will present a new vision for supporting STI in Africa, led by the President of Mauritius, H.E. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. This is the Coalition for Research and Innovation (CARI), an alliance of African science leaders and international funders who have joined forces to catalyse investment in research and innovation. 

Through CARI, we want to transform the leadership, governance and funding of African research, so that the leaders of African nations take ownership and set research agendas, and African researchers work equitably with global partners. 

The need for science-led development

Investment in science and R&D can raise economic productivity by boosting innovation and creating new start-ups, SMEs and jobs. A workforce with strong STI skills provides a base for better policy-making, for attracting high-value manufacturing, and for protecting our planet. 

And, in this time of profound economic, demographic and epidemiological transition, science is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Science can help to reduce disease and poverty, and can generate knowledge and translate it into products and services to benefit citizens. 

Crucial to this will be greater investment to make a greater impact on the nexus of health, food, water and climate change, and to produce a cadre of leaders with the interdisciplinary skills needed to meet these challenges.

This means that Africa must keep hold of its expertise. African scientists and other professionals would be happy to return to or stay in their home countries, if the continent invests to create ecosystems in which they can thrive.

Africa has fewer than 100 scientists per million inhabitants, and will need to increase this to the global average of 800 by training millions of scientists, technicians and engineers to post-graduate levels over the next few years. This will require billions of dollars, but it will be immensely rewarding in meeting the SDGs.

African leaders increasingly champion science

Fortunately, the tide is turning:

  • Countries like South Africa, Nigeria Egypt, and Tunisia have been providing leadership based on scientific outputs. 
  • Other countries like Kenya are dedicating increased funds for science and innovation. 
  • Mauritius has used STI to position herself as an international financial hub and a global hot spot for biodiversity. 
  • Algeria has been implementing a strategy to improve science, and its number of scientific publications has grown from 12,000 in 2008 to 45,000 in 2015. 
  • The African Union’s implementation of the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 demonstrates governments’ support for science. 
  • The AU has created a Presidential Committee on Science and Technology, of which President Gurib-Fakim is a member. 

This increasing commitment can be leveraged to create endowments, cost-sharing schemes with national governments, and public-private partnerships.

A drone on a launch pad in Muhanga, south of Rwanda’s capital Kigali 
Image: REUTERS/James Akena

Supporting African science in a less fragmented way

Agenda 2063 calls for “African resources to finance its development”, and for a partnership of governments, businesses and philanthropists to “establish an African STI Fund”. With African countries still spending a measly 1.3% of the total global spend on R&D, such a dedicated fund for STI across Africa will be crucial. 

A dedicated fund for African scientists would also promote collaboration across borders – essential in a continent where countries share similar challenges but rarely work on these together, such as disease outbreaks. This was a painful lesson of the Ebola crisis, which could have been ameliorated or even avoided had African scientists been supported to work more collaboratively. 

Efforts to create a common fund will not begin from scratch. Many global funders already make significant direct investments in cross-African institutions. One example is the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), created by the African Academy of Sciences and NEPAD Agency with support from global partners such as Wellcome, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID. AESA is a transparent vehicle to manage research funding and provide research leadership for the continent. It currently manages more than $150M of science programmes across the continent.

Through CARI, global funders, private corporations and philanthropists can coalesce to better coordinate spending and support regional science initiatives like AESA, Planet Earth Institute and others. 

Africa’s destiny is in the hands of its scientists, but they must have more resources and support to succeed. We will identify opportunities and build a road-map and business plan to make the case for investment, ready for launch in 2018.

Manifesto for 2017

Dear friends, I was keen to send you, today itself, my very best wishes for 2017. May this year be rich, full of promise and may all your projects be met with success.

This is a pivotal year for our continent, indeed, it will be marked by a change of leadership at the head of the African Union. Heads of African States and Governments will have the task of choosing a new President for the African Union commission during the 28th Summit at Addis Ababa in January. This summit follows on from Kigali where we count a number of success stories, especially the launch of the African passport, decisions taken on the financing of the African Union as well as the free-exchange continental zone. President Kagame has been designated on this occasion to lead reform at the African Union, reform that is indispensable if the African Union is to respond fully to the aspirations of Africans and execute Agenda 2063 in an efficient and poignant manner.

On this basis, I am very pleased that the exchanges among the different contenders have been democratic and transparent. This first televised debate has, in my opinion, reinforced even more the legitimacy of the African Union in the eyes of our citizens by allowing them to hear the perspectives of the different candidates and to form their own opinion. This flows in the spirit of good governance and it is one we can only be very pleased about.

Furthermore, I wish to offer my thanks and congratulations to Mrs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for her leadership and her determination which have enabled a number of matters to evolve very positively. I am thinking, in particular, of the widening of the African Union with the reintegration of a great African country in the midst of Pan-African bodies. This is an event of great importance because, on one hand, Africa needs the input of countries like Morocco to support democratic transitions, promote Human Rights and, in particular, women’s rights on the continent. On the other hand, the input of the sharifian Kingdom will be indispensable to the realisation of the goals fixed in the context of the 2063 Agenda. Let us rejoice, therefore, in this restored unity and let us be confident that this reunion will bear numerous successes.

We must indeed maintain and keep improving on what we have started: I am thinking, in particular, of the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) which targets 16 cross-border projects. Today 3 of these projects are at an extremely advanced stage, the two hydroelectric projects in East and West Africa (Ruzizi III and the Sambagalou dam respectively) and also the Gas Pipeline project between Nigeria and Algeria. This is a very positive development and represents an important milestone in reaching NEPAD’s goals. This is, in fact, NEPAD’s very raison d’être: to orientate and render projects viable and define the rules which bring visibility to the investors. NEPAD is the ‘one-stop-shop’ of development.

I would like to remind us all that NEPAD is the first manifestation of the collective will of African countries to take their destiny into their own hands and to bring on development on the continent. Here is an initiative with incredible potential, the more reason to continue to drive and nurture this organisation and to ensure that we no longer allow ideas from without to be imposed upon us.

This is what I wish, therefore, for our continent for 2017 : increasingly ambitious goals for our common future, a future whose script belongs to us and one we will write by our values of unity and probity.

NEPAD-IPPF, a critical instrument to bridge Africa’s infrastructure financing gap

Today, I would like to talk to you about NEPAD-IPPF (NEPAD Infrastructure Project Preparation Facility), which is an extremely important organ for African development, as it helps building essential infrastructure on the continent. That multi-donor Special fund is managed by the African Development Bank on behalf of NEPAD Agency, and is aligned to major continental initiatives such as the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the priority framework to bridge Africa’s infrastructure gap.

The facility was established in response to a call of the G8 countries to address one of the weaknesses of infrastructure development in Africa : the lack of investment-ready, viable projects. Its goal? To prepare high-quality viable projects in energy, trans-boundary water resources, transport and ICT, and make them bankable for investment. NEPAD-IPPF has a critical role : they have to prepare pre-feasibility, feasibility, environmental and social impact studies of the projects, along with providing transaction advisory services to make infrastructure projects across Africa bankable. This responds directly to increasing Africa’s infrastructure stock, which is a pre-requisite to Africa’s regional integration effort. Without NEPAD-IPPF, bridging Africa’s infrastructure would take much longer ! And so would sustainable growth and people’s lives improvement…

Since 2005, NEPAD-IPPF has built its legitimacy on various successes. In eleven years, the facility has prepared over 67 regional infrastructure projects, half of which have been financed over US $7.78 billion. A total of 18 projects have successfully been financed and are being implemented. Three of them have been built, among them the Kariba North Hydropower construction project in Zambia or a new road linking Burundi and Rwanda: the facility contributed US $746,000 towards the feasibility study. The road was officially opened in July 2013 and has improved living conditions around the project area by facilitating better access to basic services, schools and health centres.

I want to emphasize that these projects benefit to all, and not only to large industries ! Thanks to it, medium and small enterprises and households can get increased access and reliability to electricity and various services. Besides, NEPAD-IPPF generates a lot of direct and indirect business opportunities along the infrastructure value chain, ranging from consulting/engineering services, transaction advisory, to construction and equipment supply.

Today there are still challenges : funds and allocations are sometimes difficult to find, and this creates many issues. Indeed, early stage regional project preparation is as expensive as complex, because it involves multiple countries, multiple stakeholders, with legal, social and economic environment that are not always harmonized. NEPAD-IPPF has the ability to handle that complexity and these multiple environments: we cannot leave it under-resourced ! African countries, as beneficiaries, have to put some money into it. But not only them : we need to get new sources interested in our projects, coming from all over the world. They may not be familiar with African infrastructure landscape and we need to build their interest. This is a priority! To bridge Africa’s infrastructure financing of US $100 billion annually, concerted efforts will be required from all concerned.

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Mandela day

On the occasion of the Nelson Mandela International Day, the NEPAD Agency joins the rest of the world in honouring one of Africa’s greatest statesman. As we once again join in the annual celebrations of this initiative, we ought to be reminded of his exemplary life which embodied the highest values of the African Union in its drive towards a united, peaceful and prosperous continent.

The message behind Mandela International Day is a simple one – each individual has the ability and the responsibility to change the world for the better. In recognition of this special Day, it is befitting for the NEPAD Agency to reflect on the ways in which we can all effect meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of ordinary people around us.

The NEPAD Agency joins the Mandela Foundation in asking people around the world to devote at least 67 minutes of their time on 18 July – Madiba’s birthday – to a community service activity.

Nelson Mandela once said: “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” He was a leader who acted with a steadfast belief in justice and human equality. Let us all continue, each day, to draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life-long example and his call to never cease working to build a better world for all.

We are counting on China to continue promoting industrialization in Africa

On 18 July, I had the chance to speak at a press conference on the sidelines of NEPAD’s Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee meeting in Kigali. This was for me the opportunity to consider the issue of relations between China and Africa : indeed, we are counting on China to continue promoting industrialization in Africa given that Africa is the youngest continent in the world. This is why the commitments that were made during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) need to be implemented.

You will find more about my intervention here.

Africa’s Growth to Come From Industrialization

During the 27th African Union Summit in Kigali, we held the 35th NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC). This was for me the opportunity to emphasize the fact that industrialization will create jobs for youth in Africa, and that its growth will come from there.

Indeed, we need to produce goods that add value to popularize Africa and a popular economy of entrepreneurs. Trade and economic partnership is becoming a challenge but Africa needs to think about trade protection if we are to have a constructive regional market.

Please read more here.