While discussions about Africa's great agriculture potential have been going on since the time of independence, with little actual progress towards a Green Revolution, it now seems the time is ripe for a more co-ordinated continental approach, writes Tom Collins, who attended the recent African Green Revolution Forum 2017 in Abidjan.
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Aliko Dangote, Africa's richest man, told investors: "Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture. Africa will become the food basket of the world."
Prime weather conditions, acres of empty space and well-established agricultural sectors averaging 33% of GDP, all make Dangote's statement more than plausible.
Yet, Africa's thought leaders and businessmen have been emphasising the importance of agriculture for quite some time, and to date, familiar problems remain.
According to a World Bank estimate, the African agriculture sector could be worth up to $ltr by 2030, but lack of technology, lack of investment and an ageing farmer population all put this figure and Dangote's vision into question.
Only in the past decade or so has the sector seen a sustained development effort, but more needs to be done.
Vision versus reality
Agriculture is positioned at the forefront of nearly every African government's development plan. The received wisdom is that rapid economic development comes from developing smallholder farms, evidenced by Europe, North America and Asia's historical development.
Africa has about 33m farms of less than two hectares each, accounting for 80% of all farms.
Rather than create large commercial farms, many believe that by increasing the yields of African smallholdings, and by ensuring manufacturing capability to improve and extend value chains, Africa can retain its agricultural wealth, reduce imports, and profit from a surplus of goods in the market.
Speaking at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2017 in Abidjan, Cote d'lvoire, Joe Studwell, author and journalist, said: "I put it to you that smallholder agriculture is not just important; if you want to transform your society quickly there is no other way to do it."
In 2003 the African Union echoed this belief and adopted the Nepad Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), wl lich aimed to revive agriculture by addressing numerous issues as well as pledging that each African country snould dedicate 10% of their national budgets to agriculture.
Faced with substantial...