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A GROWING OPPORTUNITY: Investment in agriculture crucial to drive down poverty in sub-Saharan Africa

Agriculture could be a catalyst for economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, but lack of funding for strategic investment risks undermining progress, according to a report published today by the ONE Campaign. Despite agriculture’s significant contribution to the economy of most African countries, investment in infrastructure, technology, and market development for the sector remains very low.

Both African leaders and donor countries have placed agriculture at the centre of efforts to unlock development in the continent. With more than two-thirds of African people dependent on farming for their livelihoods, investment in the sector is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty.

But today’s report, ‘A Growing Opportunity: Measuring Investments in African Agriculture,’ which tracks commitments made by 19 African countries and eight donor countries to support growth in agriculture and improve food security, shows these commitments are off track. This must be urgently addressed if the potential for agriculture growth to bring about broader economic development is to be realised.

Where leaders and donors have committed to and financed ambitious, robust agriculture investment plans, there has been good progress. Ethiopia stands out; from 2008 – 2011 almost 20 per cent of government spending was invested in agriculture and productivity rose each year by almost a quarter. The country has a clear 10-year plan for agriculture and is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

However, across the 19 countries studied there is an urgent need for donors and African leaders to address a $4.4 billion funding gap. Only four countries analysed – Ethiopia, Niger, Malawi and Cape Verde – have met the bold 2003 Maputo African Union commitment to invest 10 per cent of their budget in the agriculture sector. Senegal and Sierra Leone are close behind.  Alarmingly, eight countries’ budgetary allocations to agriculture actually decreased.

At the same time, G8 countries are falling well short of meeting the $22 billion pledge agreed at the 2009 G8 Summit in L’Aquila – less than half the money committed has been distributed and donor support for African-led agriculture plans is significantly off track. The credibility of the G8 rests on being accountable for these past pledges.

Dr Sipho Moyo, Africa Director at the ONE campaign said:

“African agriculture should be thriving. The continent has the right conditions to feed itself, enjoying fertile farmland, enough water and a climate that can support flourishing smallholder farms.

“Sustained investment in agriculture could be transformative and ONE applauds Ethiopia, Niger, Malawi and Cape Verde for prioritising spending. These countries have demonstrated clear progress over the past 10 years, but Africa as a whole is far from realising its potential.

“We know that growth in agriculture is an especially effective route to reducing poverty.  And yet, while sub-Saharan Africa has seen tremendous progress in health and education, cereal crop yields have barely improved in decades.”

The ONE report also notes that important policy steps have been taken to fast-track agriculture development. To date over 40 countries have actively engaged in the CAADP process (the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, designed to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through agriculture), 30 have compacts signed and 26 national agriculture investment plans are in place. To translate these policy statements into productivity and food security, the $4.4 billion spending shortfall has to be filled.

The report’s key findings are:

  • Nine of the 19 African countries with national agriculture investment plans are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015.
  • Thirteen of the 15 countries with available data achieved an average annual agriculture growth rate of 6% or more.
  • Only four of the 19 countries have met the ambitious African Union target to invest 10 per cent of national expenditure on agriculture; two more are just under that threshold.  Combined, the shortfall across the 19 countries is $4.4 billion.
    • While donor countries have technically met their combined pledge of $22 billion support for agriculture over three years, there is dramatic variation in progress on disbursing funds, with Canada, Italy and the UK all exceeding their pledges, while Japan and the USA have disbursed only 10.9 and 22.6 per cent of their pledges respectively.  Donor countries should allocate more of their overall international development spending to agriculture – {country specific ref} the UK has reduced the proportion from 2.5 per cent of aid spending in 2006-09 to 2.18 per cent in 2009-11; a drop of 13 per cent from an already low level.
    • Donor countries are not prioritising assistance in those low-income countries which have country-owned national investment plans for agriculture. Worldwide, the UK, the EU, Italy and France all invest less than 11 per cent of agriculture spending in countries with national investment plans.
    • Improvements in transparency are urgently needed. At least half of the countries analysed had major flaws or gaps in their budget documents, and less than half had a ‘citizen’s budget’ online.
    • Most national agriculture plans are missing a clear focus on women farmers. While up to half the work force on farms in sub-Saharan Africa can be women, they do not have the same access to credit or control over resources as men. Experts say that if women were given equal access, they could raise yields on their farms by between 20 and 30 per cent, which could lead to enough food being grown to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 million.

2013 is a critical year; momentum is building in Africa to marshal political will across the continent to review and revitalise the Maputo commitments.

Dr Moyo continued:

“African leaders made bold commitments in 2003 to reverse decades of neglect with a historic promise to their people to spend 10 per cent of national budgets on agriculture.

“As we approach 2014, the Africa Union year of Agriculture, both African governments and donors must increase funding of technically vetted national agriculture plans to tackle hunger and address the woes of African farmers.”

Meanwhile, the three-year donor commitments made at L’Aquila have come to an end. The G8 Summit in Lough Erne and related food and nutrition event in London this June present historic opportunities for the international community to contribute to African nations’ goals of lifting millions from poverty and preventing chronic malnutrition. G8 leaders should deliver on past promises and back African governments’ agriculture plans with the necessary resources.

To support CAADP and back African governments’ agriculture plans, G8 donors must:

  • meet the agriculture commitments made at Camp David (2012) and L’Aquila (2009);
  • help to fill remaining funding gaps in national agricultural investment plans;
  • build on progress with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition; and
  • make their own bilateral commitments more transparent.

The credibility of the G8 rests on being accountable for past promises like these.

Notes to editors

  1. The full report is available at www.one.org/growingopportunity
  2. According to the World Bank, growth in agriculture is 2.5 times as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.