12 May 2014

The Africa Progress Panel proposes more of the same old recipes to tackle hunger and poverty in Africa

In its Annual Report called ‘‘Grain, Fish, Money – Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions’’, the Africa Progress Panel (APP) states that it is time now to tap Africa’s huge natural resources to feed its population and beyond, and ‘‘extend the recent economic successes of the continent to the vast majority of its inhabitants’’.

For this, says Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and chair of the Panel, ‘‘African governments must now scale up the appropriate infrastructure and ensure that financial systems are accessible for all’’. With loans to purchase improved seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, pay for insurance premiums and in a fully liberalised trade context, African farmers are expected to be competitive on the world market and generate enough tax income to contribute to the reimbursement of massive investments in infrastructure, provided also that fiscal evasion and corruption in the continent are brought under control, major international commodity traders and fishing or timber companies are forced to adopt more transparent and licit practices and foreign investments are regulated to the benefit of Africa.

This makes a rather long list of provisos for which nothing is said on the political conditions that will give them some chances of being translated into reality although the report does recognise here and there that the real challenge is political.

The report acknowledges that growth observed in Africa in recent years has created ‘‘two Africas’’ that coexist : one that is developing fast where a minority is making fortunes, and one that is left behind in poverty and hunger. This is a continent where energy subsidies for the better off are larger than subsidies on social protection programmes for the poorest.

But according to the report, the solution to hunger and poverty lies in the promotion of a fertiliser-water-pesticide intensive agriculture that has shown its limits in Asia which, despite huge growth in agricultural production, remains the region in the world where the most poor and hungry live and where natural resources have suffered from irreversible degradation. The solution proposed will certainly generate a lot of activity for construction, seed and agro-chemical companies, but is it likely to include poor African farmers and will it not draw many of them into the debt trap that has made so many Indian farmers commit suicide and push others to the shanty towns of Asian megacities?

What are the five specific recommendations of the report?

  1. A more inclusive growth through reduced school attendance disparities, better access to basic services in rural areas, and diverting 3% of regional GDP from energy subsidies to social protection programmes

  2. Invest in a green revolution by allocating 10% of government budgets to agriculture (the Maputo commitment of 2003), promoting import substitution by reducing regional tariffs and non tariff barriers and improving infrastructure

  3. Stop plundering Africa’s fishery resources, tackle illegal fishing and full transparency on commercial fishing permits and forestry permits, the latter being granted with approval from local communities

  4. Develop infrastructure and accessible financial services

  5. Make tax and finance more transparent, tax exemptions being made public along with the name of main beneficiaries and making multinationals transparent in their financial operations and tax payments; reduce the cost of transferring remittances to Africa.

Those of you who regularly consult this site will know that we can agree to recommendations 1, 3, 4 and 5, but not to what is proposed in 2. Let us not repeat in Africa the errors of what has been done in Asia, with even less chances of success. Rather let’s base agricultural development on more accessible and environment-friendly technologies for which research is the key factor, not on billions of dollars, concrete and skills developed by staffs of multinationals. It is a radically different more horizontal, democratic and inclusive model that Africa needs. And as O. de Schutter clearly stated in his terminal report, and as we have repeatedly said here, the key issue is political. Smallholders, the poor need to be organised to be able to defend their interest and not be left to wait for assistance coming to them from a patronising government or international community.

This should be made clear and action taken accordingly, otherwise we will be bound to take stock of another failure in solving the hunger and poverty problem in Africa. It is quite unbelievable that the Panel turns a blind eye to solutions proposed by de Schutter and the recent NEPAD Agency report ‘‘Agriculture in Africa - Transformation and Outlook’’.

What is needed here is not more of the same old recipes like those promoted by AGRA in Africa which have shown to result in exclusion, but something radically different that, some experiences have shown it here and there, is possible.


For more information:

On this site:

  1. Africa commits to eliminate hunger by 2025: will priority be given to a sustainable family agriculture? February 2014

  2. Seven principles for ending hunger sustainably October 2013

        and particularly:

        1. Organisation and empowerment of the hungry

        2. Development of research       

Read the full report by the Panel: Grain Fish Money Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions 2014


Last update:    May 2014

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