17 July 2016

AfDB’s new agricultural strategy: for a so-called “modern” agriculture that will be neither sustainable nor inclusive and will only benefit a minority

The African Development Bank (AfDB) recently made public its strategy for Africa’s agriculture. Under the title “Feed Africa” – AfDB develops strategy for Africa’s agricultural transformation, AfDB informs us that this strategy is designed to provide a response to the challenges of African agriculture and use in the most effective way the continent’s huge agricultural potential.

Based on the diagnosis that Africa is likely to see its number of inhabitants suffering from undernourishment increase from 240 to 320 million (+30%) in the next 10 years and that, over the same period, food imports into Africa are likely to raise from 35 to 110 billion, AfDB has selected agriculture as its second priority, after electrification.

According to the regional bank, the agroindustrial sector must be profoundly transformed by facilitating the emergence of a dynamic private agroindustrial sector. For this, as stated by the AfDB, three conditions should be fulfilled:

  1. (i)“ A large-scale dissemination of productivity-increasing technology and inputs, plus input intensity and capital intensity;

  2. (ii)the development of input and output markets structures and incentives that allow the full realization of the value of increased production; and,

  3. (iii)a well-functioning and vibrant private sector that can manage and allocate skill and capital to scale emergent success and drive long-term sustainable agribusiness growth.”

To achieve this, the bank proposes a series of liberal recipes very similar to those promoted by the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and that include in particular reform of land tenure policies and liberalisation of input markets (seeds, fertilisers and pesticides). The purpose is to “modernise” technologies and value chains while pretending that inclusion of the population will be secured. In fact, what is sought is to make African agriculture evolve towards the agricultural model of rich countries even though it has shown to fail in terms of sustainability (degradation of soils and water, drastic decrease of agricultural biodiversity, decreasing trend of productivity) and quality (contamination by chemicals that are harmful for health) and that implies reduced employment and a massive rural drift.

What does this so-called modernisation entail? It comprises the use of capital-intensive agricultural technologies that date back several decades and that have proven their non sustainability on other continents, require huge funding, lead to the replacement of labour by machines and allows only the integration of a minority of ‘emerging’ farmers, the most dynamic, in a market and in value chains that are dominated by private sector companies whose aim is to make large profits and that are under the more or less direct control of large agroindustrial and retail multinationals. These characteristics leave little hope for a real inclusion of the mass of African farmers who will rather risk to be marginalised or may even lose their ancestral land as has already been observed in many cases. These proposals are very far from what had been put forward in 2014 by the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and the African Union Commission [read our article]. Between the two possible approaches for the development of African agriculture, ADB decidedly puts all its financial weight behind that which clearly adopts the most liberal options, with little chance of benefit to the majority of Africans living in rural areas and in a situation of poverty and undernourishment.

The approach proposed by the regional bank leaves to the State the onerous role of funding infrastructure (irrigation, storage facilities and roads) with public money, the responsibility of creating a land market to the detriment of rural communities and of giving supremacy of seed multinationals while limiting the right of farmers to use and exchange their seeds. Roles are clear: profits for the private sector through the exploitation of local natural and human resources while benefiting from lavish tax exemptions, and taxes for african and foreign taxpayers to subsidise the local and multinational private sector. It is difficult to image how this strategy could really contribute to the reduction of poverty and undernourishment in rural areas of Africa. Rather, it is likely to increase them while at the same time encouraging migration of a mass of peasants and their families to the slums of fast expanding African cities where employment opportunities and infrastructure will have great difficulties in coping with this massive population inflow.

Hardly any word, if any, on the role that farmer groups and cooperatives should play in modern value chains, while this could be a real means to include them in economic development.

As often, the document pretends (do its authors really still believe in the ‘trickle down’ theory in the field of development when it has been contradicted by facts since long ago) that increasing the production will suffice in reducing undernourishment, a myth that has been debunked for more than 70 years! “Modern” you said? No these are old recipes that will make that African agriculture will waste another decade and that will carry huge social and human costs for the rural population of the continent.

Of course, the strategy uses all the politically correct buzzwords such as “inclusive and green” growth in favour of “women and youth”, and “aligned to realizing the ambitions agreed in COP 21”, but they do not correspond to any concrete action. This could make us smile if this were not dealing with the future of hundreds of millions of people. In reality, this strategy opens wide the door to funding in hundreds of billions of dollars by investment funds, the leaders of which, along with those of multinationals, are well known to be committed to development actions in favour of the most destitute people… Really, are you sure?

Along with this totally wrongly oriented strategy, the report is full of useful data and graphs on the agricultural situation of the continent. From this point of view, it is an interesting and useful reading.

It is hoped that the rural people of Africa will mobilise against this vision and will combat the imposition of a future that will leave rural and agricultural Africa bled dry in a few decades and that will only serve to enrich a local minority and, foremost, the holders of shares in large investment funds.


To know more:

  1. -African Development Bank, Nourrir l’Afrique :“Feed Africa” – AfDB develops strategy for Africa’s agricultural transformation, May 2016

Earlier articles on related to the topic:

  1. -The European Union investigates on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,  Mars 2016

  2. -Thirteen myths about hunger…, December 2015

  3. -Are existing food and agricultural policies supportive to local sustainable food systems?, October 2015

  4. -United Kingdom: a study demonstrates the failure of the British food system, December 2014

  5. -The Africa Progress Panel proposes more of the same old recipes to tackle hunger and poverty in Africa, May 2014

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

  7. -Two approaches to agricultural development in Africa, September 2013


Last update:    July 2016

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