A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.

Philippe Egger
Personal Account

Employment in Africa: Think agriculture!

Philippe Egger,

Director of the Bureau of Programming and Management,
International Labour Organization (ILO)

Over 60 percent of Africa’s active population works in and lives from agriculture, and yet Africa imports close to $50 billion worth of food every year. Such is the gloomy contradiction raised by Philippe Egger, Director of the Bureau of Programming and Management at the International Labour Organization (ILO), in a recent editorial we are publishing below1 in its entirety. At issue, the negligence shown by governments and international lenders that resulted in reduced agricultural output for the past 50 years and lower annual yield rates in a context of continued demographic pressure.

Agriculture is a driver of African economic growth, and it can be fueled by the implementation of policies. Among the various solutions considered by Philippe Egger, is the increase of operational exchange rates, since we know that agricultural competitiveness is largely dependent on monetary policies. For Philippe Egger, this integration strategy in international markets will make it easier to fight price volatility, create jobs and increase farmers’ incomes.

A March 4, 2013 World Bank report indicates that agriculture and agri-business in Africa could amount to $1 trillion (close to €770 billion) by 2030––against $313 billion in 2010––if Africa places agriculture at the center of its economic development. Consequently, there is an urgent need to think about agriculture, since yes––and momagri continues to advocate this approach since its creation––developing agriculture represents the cornerstone of all policies to fight poverty and food insecurity!

momagri Editorial Board

GENEVA (ILO News) - Economic growth in Africa is forecast to continue at a robust rate, slightly above the recent trend of 5 per cent a year. And, Africa is urbanizing fast, with an average of close to 40 per cent of the population living in cities.

As such, it may seem paradoxical to suggest that agriculture should be Africa’s number one priority, especially when it comes to employment. But there are very good reasons for this.

Over 60 per cent of Africa’s economically active population works in and lives from agriculture; over one third of total value-added comes from agriculture; and, surprisingly, Africa imports close to US$50 billion worth of food every year, mostly to feed its rapidly expanding urban population (see chart). This is equivalent to what Africa receives in official development aid, and over five times more than the amount invested in future economic growth by the African Development Bank.

The reality is that agriculture in Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike. This carries a high cost: Per capita food production has barely grown over the last 50 years, at a pace of 0.06 per cent a year. With the population rising at 2.6 per cent a year, food imports have increased at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent since 1980, with cereals accounting for the largest share. Africa receives close to half of the world’s total cereal food aid.

Putting agriculture first, what would it take?

Africa needs to focus on raising food output per unit of land among the large majority of small-holders. An “agriculture first” strategy - widely discussed in the 1970s - would raise much needed foreign exchange currently used to import food that should be grown in Africa; it would protect the continent from the vagaries of volatile food prices and it would raise incomes in rural areas, reducing poverty and raising demand to boost growth. This would provide more productive jobs for a significant share of Africa’s youth.

What would it take to raise output among small-holders? In 2003, the African Union adopted a plan for agriculture comprising wider use of fertilizer and sound water management techniques; support to rural infrastructure and market access; and agricultural research. These broad orientations require full attention and broad application.

Africa can learn from its own varied experiences, from the lower yields of Senegal or Sudan, to the higher yields of Malawi or Zambia.

Trade can play an important role. The priority must go to trade within Africa to raise exchanges between food surplus and deficit countries. At present, food imports are favoured from regions with large subsidies to producers, thus artificially depressing world prices.

Sustained and broad-based growth in Africa cannot take place without robust agricultural growth underpinning employment and incomes for the large majority of the employed population. Turning this agenda into reality is a major task for the next 10 to 20 years.

1 http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/comment-analysis/WCMS_203469/lang--en/index.htm
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Paris, 16 June 2019