Kenya is witnessing a quiet revolution which holds out real hope of banishing poverty and hunger and driving economic growth through Agri-business.
This transformation is not in sectors like oil and gas, minerals or tourism, which grab global headlines, but in Agri-Business, which remains the backbone of the continent’s economy.
Agri-Business Is the Major Sector in Kenya
Despite the rapid growth in the services sector, Agri-Business still accounts for more than a third of its GDP. Kenya is urbanizing rapidly, but Agri-Business still employs two-thirds of the workforce. Evidence has shown that growth in Agri-Business is up to 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector. If we want to end poverty and hunger in Kenya by 2030, Agri-Business needs to be right at the heart of the strategy.
Kenyan Agri-Business and small-scale farmers have too often been forgotten. The result is that Africa, despite the hard work of its farmers, does not grow enough to feed its own people. One in four of the continent’s population is undernourished, a huge barrier to better health and development. There is a direct economic cost, too, with $35bn spent on importing food annually – a figure which could almost triple by 2025 unless Africa increases agricultural productivity.
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How to Fight Hunger and Poverty Through Agri-Business
First, over the last decade, Agri-Business has received growing attention from governments and investors. For example, through African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) – a forum which Koffi Annan helped launch a decade ago – $30bn worth of political, financial and policy pledges were made; the largest-ever commitment to the continent’s Agri-Business. This was a turning point. Now, Africa is taking steps to turn these pledges into results. At 2016 AGRF in early September, there were signing of many agro-business deals amounting to more than $6bn.
Second, smallholder agri-business farmers are becoming recognized for the small businesses they are. Initiatives like the Farm to Market Alliance, which help smallholder farmers secure long-term buyers for their produce, are gaining momentum. This gives them the confidence to invest and grow their businesses knowing they have a market when they harvest.
Third, Africa is changing the way it works together. New partnerships are emerging, like the recently launched, multimillion-dollar Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA). It aims to increasing incomes and improve the food security of 30 million smallholder farm households across Africa by 2021. It is the first time Africa has seen some of the largest funders of agricultural development pooling their resources and efforts towards a common goal. This represents a new way of doing business. Though supporting small-scale farmers, Africa can free itself from hunger.
Fourth, with climate change threatening food production as never, Africa is prioritizing efforts to help farmers adapt. By embracing, for example, solutions such as drought and heat-tolerant crops, modern weather information systems, and efficient irrigation systems, farmers can cope with the changing weather conditions.
Fifth, Africa is putting a much bigger emphasis on the quality of its diets, rather than just focusing on quantity. In sub-Saharan Africa, millions lack the nutrients needed for proper health and development. One of the ways we are tackling malnutrition is by making crops more nutritious.
Africa Taking Control Through Agri-Business
These signs of progress rarely make the global headlines, but they are slowly and surely transforming economies and improving lives of millions across the continent. Africa is taking control of its own agricultural transformation. This is essential if the continent is to ensure African farmers and companies enjoy the full benefits of its growing food market, which is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2030.
In the end, this progress will only continue if Africa focus on Agri-Business as its path to prosperity, monitor its progress and hold itself to account.
We shall reap what we sow. By supporting Kenya’s smallholder farmers, we can build a Kenya free from hunger. We can build an Africa free from poverty. We can build an Africa proud to be economically strong and able to feed itself. That is the bountiful harvest that together we can and must achieve.
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By Koffi Annan