The Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) at Brookings convened the Africa Growth Forum that engaged researchers, policymakers and stakeholders in both the United States and Africa. The forum organized under the auspices of AGI was held January 19–20, 2011 in Washington, D.C. with the theme “Enhancing Agricultural Productivity for Shared Growth in Africa.” The theme was chosen to highlight the centrality of agriculture to the growth of African economies.
According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, in 2009 agriculture contributed to 13 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and to 3.45 percent of annual growth. Additionally, according to the 2010 World Bank Agriculture Factsheet, the agricultural sector in north and sub-Saharan Africa employs an estimated 65 percent of persons in the region. Effective agriculture policies for Africa are imperative due to the precarious food security situation in the continent. Africa’s population is expected to increase from 770 million in 2005 to 1.2 to 2 billion by 2050, thus increasing the demand for food significantly. Data on the Millennium Development Goals show that 26 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population was estimated to suffer from chronic malnutrition and hunger in 2005–2007. These statistics demonstrate that the next four decades will require major improvements in the productivity of Africa’s agricultural output and expansion of agribusinesses. Expansion of agriculture is also important to the overall growth of African economies, as evidence shows that growth in the agricultural sector is associated with a larger multiplier effect than in other sectors.
To improve agricultural productivity in order to meet growing demand, Africa must invest heavily in research and development. However, spending on agricultural research only grew by 0.6 percent from 1980 until 2000, and use of new technologies to improve agricultural production in Africa remains dismally low. Specifically, cereal yields remain low compared to the rest of the world, fertilizer use is minimal, and only 4 percent of land is irrigated in sub-Saharan Africa compared with Asia’s 38 percent and a global average of 20 percent. Nearly 80 percent of farms in sub-Saharan Africa are small—less than 2 hectares. Thus, many of the challenges for improving African agriculture must focus on enabling small farmers to use advanced production methods.
AGI’s Africa Growth Forum provided a platform to address issues that have a direct bearing on agricultural production. The following topics were covered in the presentations: fertilizer adoption, adoption of improved seed varieties, climate change, insurance, contract farming, land certification/tenure, and financial innovation. The presentations and discussions identified viable policy options to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential.