Africa recently experienced an unusually long spell of steady growth. Sadly, it is a well-known fact that our economies failed to ensure the equitable sharing of the benefits of one of the highest growth rate in the world. So we are today in a specific context of a general decline in commodity prices and a consecutive slowdown in growth in Africa. This downward trend in commodity prices may be a constraint, but I would also like to see it as an opportunity because both public and private stakeholders will have to be more innovative in order to unlock new sources of endogenous growth, wealth and inclusive employment with greater spill over effects for the region’s economies.
Addressing the challenge of employment and wealth in the rural world is crucial for Africa’s development. The situation is highly paradoxical: Africa imports the equivalent of USD 50 billion in food each year, even though more than half of the world’s uncultivated arable land is on the continent and 60% of the population still lives in the rural world! The development of this agricultural potential, at a high productivity and competitiveness level, is essential if Africa is to feed 2.5 billion people by 2050.
Today, the challenge is to identify new tools for sustainable economic growth, this time based on principles of inclusion and equity, while maintaining a steady growth rate. Meeting these conditions will enable African economies to cope with a population that is still booming and with the ever-growing number of young people looking for education, training and jobs. These challenges are set against a backdrop of climate change and resource depletion, calling for the use of production techniques that are tailored to environmental challenges.
The principles of inclusion and equity imply adopting spatial and territorial approaches and policies that ensure rural areas benefit from the same developments and initiatives as urban areas; that responsible investments are made in rural areas; and that women and young people have access to the factors of production, especially training, land, water, finance, renewable energy, markets and income that reflects the fruits of their labour.
There are promising signs that private sector money is finding its way towards more inclusive development models. Conservation finance is one of the most exciting corners of agriculture development in emerging countries today. Conservation finance strives to reach three major and complementary goals to finance the agro-ecologic transition by calculating three different kinds of returns: economic, environmental and social.
These new investment projects are based on limited land acquisition and partnerships with farmers networks that are empowered with new techniques. The new actors take care of their production and of its transformation and ensure an access to the market, whether locally or internationally. Private investment in agroforestry businesses is a big driver for the intensification of farmer’s activities while restoring degraded lands, protecting forests and raising farmers’ incomes.
The African public sector should invest more money in incubators and accelerators to channel funding and technical support at the beginning of the cycle of these projects. This investment will pay off because the incubators could create a network of agroforestry start-ups with the infrastructure, knowledge and access to the funding needed to realize their concept. The consequences in terms of employment and resource developent could be tremedous. In this regard, the support of international governments and donors will also be essential. The progressive transition from solidarity systems to mixed market systems will help to stimulate investment and the development of structural activities capable of laying the foundations for this much-needed change.
Renewing public policies on the basis of local development would also help to tackle the root causes by providing appropriate solutions to ensure people settle and remain in their areas of origin. The empowerment of local authorities should be based on their specific characteristics, their ecosystems, their cultural heritage and their know-how combined with technological innovation and learning, especially for young people and women.
The governance of our natural resources and the financial resources they generate are the cornerstone of our structural change; they require appropriate solutions at the continental, regional, national and local levels, the most critical ones being the regional and local levels. Change will be sustainable when it happens at these two levels.