Civil society must pressure Africa’s leaders to keep their promises, Kofi Annan tells Addis agriculture meeting

Civil society must hold political leaders and business to account measuring their actions against their promises, Kofi Annan, Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, told a meeting in Addis Ababa on Monday, adding that malnutrition on the continent represents political failure.

In June, African Union leaders at a meeting in Malabo renewed their 2003 commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.

“We are looking at our leaders. They made fresh promises and we will see where we go from here,” he told a mainly civil society meeting. Organised by the Africa Progress Panel to discuss this year’s Africa Progress Report, Grain, Fish, Money, the meeting took place on the eve of this year’s Africa Green Revolution Forum.

“The promises which count, we must remember, are those which are implemented, which are kept,” Mr Annan said.

With two thirds of Africans dependent on farming for their livelihoods, boosting Africa’s agriculture can create economic opportunities, reduce malnutrition and poverty, and generate faster, fairer growth.

African farmers need more investment, better access to financial services such as loans, and quality inputs such as seeds and fertilisers, Mr Annan told audience at an APP event to discuss this year’s Africa Progress Report, Grain, Fish, Money.

“You can just imagine the jobs that can be created if we went that route,” Mr Annan said, referring to the entire value chain from field to final consumer, including farmers, suppliers, transporters, processors, and a myriad of other operators.

“Unfortunately, the neglect of these sectors has allowed inequality on our continent to accelerate,” he said. “Malnutrition is a political failure. And as the saying goes, people who live in democracy and under democratic rule do not starve,” he said.

In addition to Mr Annan, the session’s speakers included Caroline Kende-Robb, APP Executive Director; Eleni Gabre-Madhin, Founder of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange; Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, Executive Director of Greenpeace Africa; Sipho Moyo, Executive Director of ONE Africa; and Strive Masiyiwa, Member of the Africa Progress Panel.

Mr Masiyiwa, who is also a telecoms entrepreneur and Chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),  said that he saw Africa’s agriculture as a business opportunity too. The involvement of African youth, especially its entrepreneurs, will be critical to seizing this opportunity, he said.

African currently imports food worth US$35 billion each year. But African farmers should be producing the food and earning this money. The continent could – and should – be feeding itself and other regions too.

Mr Masiyiwa compared Africa’s agriculture with changes in the telecommunications sector, describing these changes as “possibly the greatest modern revolution this continent has seen”.

“Less than two decades ago, 70 percent of the African population had never heard a telephone ringing; today 70 percent have a telephone,” he said.

How can we use this inspiration to boost our food and nutrition security and the prosperity of this continent, he asked.

Kofi Annan - Opening remarks


Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to see so many of you here this afternoon to discuss this important topic, a topic which should concern all African leaders and all African citizens, the transformation of African agriculture, including its fisheries. This is a very critical issue for the continent. For I believe transformation of African agriculture could improve the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people on our continent. We know that agriculture can create jobs, we know that two thirds of Africans live on the farm and fisheries. We know that it can establish affordable, reliable supply of food, and generate faster, fairer growth across the value chain involving farmers, suppliers, transporters, processors, and a myriad other operators. You can just imagine the jobs that can be created if we went that route.

Unfortunately, the neglect of these sectors has allowed inequality on our continent to accelerate. African economies may have grown rapidly, with average incomes rising by a third. But poverty and malnutrition is expanding too.

To take a single statistic: Africa spends roughly US$35 billion a year on food imports. Could you imagine if this money, or a substantial portion of it went to African farmers and the fishing communities instead of foreign businesses? Could you imagine what impact this would have on the lives of the poor women who toil on our farms day in and day out, out there alone, often with very little help from the government or the society.

The unacceptable reality is that too many African farms are woefully underperforming. Productivity levels are a fraction of their potential.

This underperformance impacts Africa’s food and nutrition security. Africa counts for one sixth of the world’s population, yet we have a third of the world’s malnourished.

If allowed to continue, this underperformance will have further negative consequences for our continent. Africa’s rapidly growing towns and cities – and we talk of urbanisation – are projected to grow to 60 percent of the population by 2050. How are we going to feed them? How do they survive if we don’t improve our agriculture and supply the cities? Without access to reliable food supplies, they could become a flashpoint for political and social instability.

Looming above all that are the challenges of climate change exacerbating all these issues.

Solutions to these issues are broadly known. Our farmers need more investment from governments, businesses, including multinationals, to enhance marketing and financial services such as credit and insurance, and quality inputs such as seeds and fertilisers.

Public-private partnerships will be key to Africa’s agricultural success. But to stand the test of time, these partnerships must be mutually beneficial. Africa’s productivity levels could easily double within five years. This in turn could dramatically reduce hunger and move subsistence farmers into commercial areas, commercial cooperatives. Africa’s smallholder farmers must benefit from these partnerships, working together with large commercial agribusinesses for better, more sustainable success. It should not be a question of large versus small. I know that debate goes on: Do we need large commercial farms? Do we need outsiders coming in?

The challenge before us therefore is to unblock the political obstacles that prevent farmers from thriving. Today’s discussion offers excellent opportunity to identify these political obstacles and the ways in which we, civil society, can help unblock them.

Before we begin our discussions, I would like to make a few suggestions.

First, civil society must hold both government and businesses to account. And they themselves must be accountable. I have worked a lot with civil societies and today I see myself as civil society (laughter). So we can talk frankly.

African governments committed to investments, more investments, in agriculture more than a decade ago. For example, as far back as 2003, Africa’s leaders agreed to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. At the recent Malabo Summit, African leaders signed up to a renewed set of targets.

The promises which count, we must remember, are those which are implemented, which are kept. It is only promises which are kept, which matter. So we are looking at our leaders. They made fresh promises and we will see where we go from here. Countries which have begun to ramp up their investment are already seeing impressive results. But most leaders have yet to meet their commitments.

Malnutrition is a political failure. And as the saying goes, people who live in democracy and under democratic rule do not starve, because the leaders and the politicians know the implications. If they starve, they will not be around much to protect their leaders and their government.

Africa’s political leaders must be held accountable and civil society has a critical role to play in translating commitments into action. A united civil society can be more effective in demanding governments to act. And so I urge you to pool your efforts, pool your resources to make the change that you want to see.

Second, civil society must support the creativity and dynamism of our young entrepreneurs or “agropreneurs” as they are called. Many of them are women. The ground-breaking technologies and approaches developed by our young men and women can now be extended through our continent and globally.

Third, civil society must take these issues to the global level. After all, Africa’s harvests and fish could help fix some of the world’s most pressing challenges: securing food and nutrition security for a rapidly growing population, providing jobs for millions of otherwise disaffected youth in Africa and elsewhere. And so the rest of the world must also help Africa towards achievement of these solutions.

I wish everybody a good and interesting discussion this afternoon. With two thirds of all Africans relying on farming and fisheries for their livelihoods, Africa’s unique green and blue revolutions will be critical for our collective future.

Thank you very much.

Strive Masiyiwa - Closing remarks


Well, what a wonderful discussion. In Africa we always like to find the father, and when the story of the African green revolution is finally written, the father of the African Green Revolution will be Kofi Annan.

And I think its chief agent provocateur will be Eleni (Gabre-Madhin, Founder of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange), what a wonderful comment you made. You’re a great entrepreneur, we love your comments.

You know, I think the most exciting thing for me as a member of the (Africa Progress) Panel, in looking at this report, was how it framed the discussion that has taken place this afternoon. Which goes to remind us of the importance of this kind of report. We are not producing enough information and data around these issues for us to have qualitative and quantitative debates of this nature. So we really must commend the writers, the technocrats who pulled this report together. It’s getting better and better. Well done Caroline (Kende-Robb) and your team.

You know, as a businessman, civil society has always kind of terrified me. When I meet you in the corridors, I don’t know if I am going to be hit by a handbag or blamed for something else. Well I begin to wonder if I am still a businessman because I am kind of beginning to enjoy listening to you. No offence taken, for the trinity. We kind of agree we need to work together. We need to get rid of these traditional boundaries. The role of civil society must be increased. We need much more rigor. As Mr. Annan said, we need to see government and the private sector held to even greater accountability.

I am absolutely persuaded that the green revolution has begun and that it is going to take place. I don’t see it anymore as an “if”. I think the debate for me has become more about “will it be inclusive”. Will we be able to take this debate, as President Kagame was saying in a panel I did with him a couple of weeks ago, can we shift this narrative from taking the African woman, who is the farmer here (recording not clear: “mainly?”) out of poverty into prosperity? Will we increase the productivity, increase the exports and yet be riding on the back of the African woman? I think this is the greater challenge for us and I hear it resonating even in some of the comments here today.

I’m a businessman coming from probably the greatest modern revolution this continent has seen, which is that of telecommunications. Less than two decades ago, 70 percent of Africans had never heard a telephone ringing, let alone use it. Today 70 percent have a telephone. How do we take inspiration from such a revolution, making it happen also for food security and nutrition and increasing the prosperity of our continent?

One of the great opportunities for me when I see a report like this is the challenge. When I hear US$35 billion food (imports), as an entrepreneur I say “what an opportunity”. How do we draw the entrepreneurs? Because it is only entrepreneurship, that’s the elephant in the room, that’s going to connect with the biggest challenge that comes with this. The challenge is how do we attract young people to this sector?

I am very excited about the work that we have been doing in AGRA with agropreneurs. I want to invite my civil society sister to come and have a look, because I think she is going to be excited. We have created thousands and thousands of agropreneurs and their role is absolutely transformative. Mr. Annan and I went to Mali a couple of years ago, and I remember as we were driving around there was this woman, and as Mr. Annan was talking she jumped to the front and she said “You know I am an agropreneur and I want a pick-up truck. Tell them to help me to get access, I need a pick-up truck!” And she explained all the things that she could do and was doing, that we talk about today. So I think that is an area we need to really reflect on. Agriculture needs to be seen in the context of entrepreneurship, because we need young people to come to agriculture. It is the entrepreneurial component that is going to excite them. How are they going to use and leverage their mobile phones?

We talked about financial inclusion. We are seeing results from cell phones, opening bank accounts for these farmers, which have an immediate impact on the resilience of these farmers and their capacity to see themselves through a new season. These cell phones can cut out the middle man, who was destroying this capacity. This was the case for subsidies in places like Nigeria, and in many other parts of Africa. Cell phones have enabled the introduction of micro insurance, weather-based insurance. These platforms, how are we going to use them and other technologies?

It brings us back to the nexus of education. Somebody asked earlier on when will the education system respond to the needs of agriculture? We have the same degree programmes, the same commerce programmes, the same things my younger brother was talking about earlier on. We need to transform our education systems to align with the biggest challenge facing us: how do we bring about inclusive growth through agriculture so that we can give young people an opportunity. I would urge you all to get a hold of Mr. Annan’s speech. Get yourself a copy, perhaps a soft copy so you can share it with others, and look at those recommendations, because I really could add nothing to it. The passion in this room tells me we are going to have a great time over the next three years. Let’s turn this into an action programme.

Thank you very much.

Photo gallery

Related videos

Related articles