EUABF: Panel discussion on sustainable agriculture calls for more investment, access to inputs and evidence-driven policies

Africa has the potential to be the breadbasket of the world, but more investment is needed, said experts at the European Union-African Union Business Forum.

Africa has the potential to be the breadbasket of the world, reduce poverty and improve quality of life on the continent through better agricultural policies that also take account of sustainability and environmental preservation.

This was the consensus at a virtual panel discussion on the theme “Sustainable agri-food value chains and their impact on society: For a renewed partnership between Africa and Europe,” held on the sidelines of the 2022 European Union-African Union Business Forum. The panellists also called for more investment into food production systems on the continent and better access to inputs as well as targeted policies that reflect the unique circumstances of individual countries on the continent.

On the panel were John Clarke, Director for International Affairs, DG AGRI, European Commission; Ilias El Fali, Advisor to the Chairman of OCP and former Chief  Operating Officer of the OCP Group; Daniel Azevedo, Director of Agricultural Technology, International Trade, World Trade Organisation, COPA-COGECA and Simplice Noula, Head of Agriculture and Food Security Division of the African Union Commission. It was moderated by Andres Schipani, East and Central African Bureau Chief for the Financial Times.

Africa’s massive agricultural potential

Speaking on the massive potential for agriculture in Africa, John Clarke said there was the need to adopt, implement and enforce practical policies with proven capacity to transform food production in Africa. He added that these policies must be assessed for their social, environmental and economic impact. He observed that while land in Africa is less degraded than in other parts of the world, there must be conscious efforts to ensure that bio-degradation is enforced as an inherent part of agricultural practices on the continent.

He said it was important to take note of the need for long-term policy formulation with adequate funding; the evolution of reliable supply chains; stable and effective legal frameworks and human capital development, especially for women in agriculture. He said African countries need to define and focus on their comparative advantages in order to produce food more efficiently.

Daniel Azevedo pointed out that policy is key to the future of food production in Africa and called for more investment and the deployment of science-based tools in the continent. He said African farmers need to have certainty while value addition to farm products will help boost farmer’s incomes and assure them of markets for their products. He called for the leveraging of digital tools to enhance production as well as for improved infrastructure.

Simplice Noula said that in 2003, the African Union made an official declaration of its recognition of agricultural industrialization as the key to the economic transformation of the continent. The AU has therefore been taking steps, particularly in the formation of policy that will make this possible. The Union has set up and supported institutions with the purpose of improving farmers’ output while also facilitating reforms in legal and policy frameworks that will enhance agricultural production.

He noted that the AU comprises of fifty-five different countries that have unique characteristics and must be recognized as such. However, efforts to harmonise policy and enhance trans-border through, in particular, the African Continental Free Trade Area would make the region more attractive for investment and help transform African agriculture from its mainly subsistence nature to a more market-based orientation. 

He said the AU aims to increase the contribution of agriculture to continental trade, currently at about 20 percent to between 30 and 40 percent through the ACFTA and said that efforts were currently underway to bottlenecks in the implementation of the agreement.

Role of fertilizer in boosting agricultural production 

Ilias El Fali noted that Africa still imports about USD 50 billion of food every year and said this called for increased investment in infrastructure, agricultural inputs and knowledge sharing with local farmers to enhance their potential and ensure that they were able to meet the challenge of feeding the continent.

He said OCP is committed to engage with stakeholders and provide the investment and innovation needed to boost food production on the continent. He said new and sustainable approaches can help the continent triple its production and leapfrog the green revolutions in other parts of the world, something OCP is firmly committed to.

As the world’s leading producer of phosphate fertilizer, OCP’s products are playing an increasingly larger role in African agriculture with its customized products that are tailored to the unique soils that farmers work with. OCP is working closely with one million farmers on the continent to improve yields without adversely impacting the delicate ecosystems that support food production, ensuring that they can get much more use out of their lands and for much longer periods.

These efforts are yielding results, such as in Ethiopia, where farmers the company is working with have experienced a 40 percent improvement in yields in just five years.

He noted that OCP is fully committed to supporting Africa’s green revolution and is open to partnerships and joint ventures that will ensure its success.