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When I read Sir Nicholas Stern’s commentary ‘A changed Africa still needs our help to grow’ published in the 31 May edition of the Financial Times, I was reminded of Nelson Mandela’s famous words:

"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom."

Sir Nicholas points to the potential of the region if it receives the right kind of sustained support. But I would like to point out one aspect that is often overlooked – agriculture and rural areas. We urgently need to focus on three issues if the African continent is to stand on its own feet. Governments and development agencies must:
  • invest in agriculture
  • boost economic growth in rural areas
  • support young people

African governments must ramp up their investment in agriculture to meet the Maputo target of 10 per cent of national budget. Some countries have already reached this benchmark – and they should be loudly congratulated for doing so – but many are still falling far short and must make a special effort to boost their public spending on agriculture.

Economic growth in rural areas both fuels and - is fuelled by - growth in the agricultural sector. Both are underpinned by functional infrastructure – including roads, energy supplies and markets. A vibrant rural sector generates local demand for locally-produced products and services. In turn, this demand can spur sustainable off-farm employment growth in services, agro-processing and small-scale manufacturing. This growth is crucial for rural employment and it is crucial for feeding a growing urban population. Without local jobs, young people will be driven away from rural areas in search of work in the cities. And then who will feed the world in 2020 or in 2030?

Recognizing smallholder farms as businesses, irrespective of their size or scale, is an important first step towards making the rural sector a viable choice for Africa’s young people. Unfortunately, too many smallholders in Africa are trapped in a cycle of mere subsistence.

Governments, donors and the private sector need to act – individually and collectively – to take smallholder farms beyond subsistence, into viable businesses, particularly for women and young people, who shoulder the future of African smallholder farming. We need to turn smallholders into entrepreneurs, into the main engine of economic growth. We need to make agriculture a business opportunity for Africa’s young women and men. We need to make agriculture a pathway out of poverty.

Kanayo F. Nwanze
President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

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