The African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina revealed to more than 1,000 delegates at the 39th Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Summit held at the birthplace of the regional grouping in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that the bank had invested $13 billion in the 16-member regional grouping since 2012.
To the common man struggling for survival below the poverty line in rural or urban SADC settings following the occasion on TV –the likelihood let alone– the figure may not have meant much more than thinking about the Creator of the Creator. This is why Akinwumi Adesina had to elaborate. Toning it down, he said as part of this commitment, the bank is supporting the establishment of a $1.2 billion SADC Development Fund to help mobilize domestic resources for regional infrastructure and industrialization.
And definitely that was still a little bit on the higher side. It was when he came down to earth; saying that in May, this year, $2million was approved for the operationalization of the Fund, including project preparation for agriculture, pharmaceuticals and mining that the common man was now more likely to respond: “Yes! Now you are talking. It’s food, health and money in the pocket.”
And indeed, he had come by; touching everybody’s flesh and the heart when he cited last year’s AfDB financing the rapid dissemination of technologies to tackle the Fall Army Worm and managing to reach 1.5 million farmers – possible family heads. That is the language. In a simple Arithmetic multiplication, this could very easily translate into directly touching the welfare of 7.5 million people in the region.
“I see brighter future for the SADC region, regional railways that link the whole region, regional value chains that drive competitiveness, special agro-industrial zones that will transform agriculture into a major business across the region, creating millions of jobs and regional power pools that will finally solve the energy challenge in the region.”
That was AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina’s special message to the Summit, attended by 16 Heads of State and Government from Angola, Botswana, Comoro, DRC Congo, Eswati, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and host Tanzania.
By any dimension, the SADC top leaders had a very involving, all- embracing, big agenda in pursuit of: “A conducive environment for inclusive and sustainable industrial development, increased intra-trade and job creation” for the region.
Setting the trend, Tanzania’s President Dr John Pombe Magufuli, who officially took the chair of the 16-state regional economic integration body from Namibian President, Dr Hage Geigob, said; “Our countries are not poor. We are very rich. We have huge population, large numbers of wildlife, vast plant species, marine ecosystems, minerals and hydrocarbons.”
Reading between the lines, the new SADC chair, by profession a teacher and doctorate holder in Chemistry, told fellow leaders that the region has every solute possible under the sun and below the level of the oceans; yet it cannot prepare a simple solution for meaningful life sustenance.
Thus, literally brooding on minerals and hydrocarbons, the SADC region invites investors on extremely lenient terms and later goes on to them with begging bowls or in search of loans at conditions that sometimes are dehumanizing.
Enough is enough, SADC countries must be saying to themselves at this point in time because space has always been there. But this stand comes with its own demands. Short of coming to grips with the essence of the situation, the region still stood the risk of making a false start – it does not matter how much the African Development Bank and other funders would be ready to pump into planned interventions.
So, where does the region find a delivering solution? It is in first addressing or solving the agriculture equation. Where would the region find conducive environment for inclusive and sustainable industrial development, increased intra-trade and job creation that is devoid of agriculture? This truth is not only for SADC. It is the truth for all the 55 member countries of the African Unity (AU). And the touch line is the Malapo Declaration, also resolved in the country of outgoing SADC chair and setting minimum budget allocations to the sector. This has not been done in many cases.
Indigenous African knowledge has it that what brings famine leaves behind a hint on where to go for supplies. No doubt agriculture is instrumental in the poverty afflicting the SADC region. So it must also be instrumental in its wealth. SADC countries’ economies can grow, diversify and create jobs only through agricultural regeneration. There is no part of the world that has ever industrialized without first transforming the agricultural sector.
To put it precisely, economic diversification and lasting wealth creation begins with vibrant agriculture. The question here remains: How can agricultural development take place under conditions of subsistence which are typical of the SADC region? A country cannot talk of development when about three quarters of its people are engaged in agriculture, contributing about a quarter of the GDP and with crop yields that are the lowest in the world.
Vibrant agriculture is not automatic. It involves money – a lot of it actually. But it is available, even within Africa itself. The point at issue is that projects must be good enough since such investments will create new markets through added revenue.
In this way, the Summit agenda component of “…conducive environment for inclusive and sustainable industrial development, increased intra-trade and job creation” would have been met. There would be higher potential return while producers own, influence and leverage the very markets.
In this way, Africa could easily reduce its costly and damaging anomaly of the net deficit in food trade. As the AfDB chief once said: “No more should Africa produce what it does not or cannot consume, and no more should it consume what it does not (but could easily) produce.”
The continent is endowed with 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and huge reserves of water. Sub-Saharan Africa also has 10% of the world’s oil reserves, 40% of its gold, and up to 90% of its chromium and platinum. And those are just the known reserves – the whole continent is one of the world’s largest unexplored resource basins. Africa may suffer from poverty but it is an unimaginably rich continent.
A sine qua non for reversing this situation requires measures for delivery of similarly impressive albeit incalculable financial impacts including fiscal inclusion, tax reform, domestic revenue mobilization, higher remittances, reduced corruption and better governance.
Furthermore, the technologies to feed Africa exist already. This is the period of climate change. High yielding drought-tolerant seed in terms of maize, cassava, rice, wheat, and sweet potatoes addressing Vitamin- A deficiency are in place.
Typical of the African agriculture is the role of the woman and the youth component. For this, the AfDB has established the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) to improve food production levels on the basis that women are demonstrably more dependable and bankable than men and the ENABLE Youth program for access to capital and capacity to “Agripreneurs”.
Akinwumi Adesina once rightly observed: “Who eats copper? And who drinks oil? Africans need to become producers and creators, and not just consumers, in the fast-moving enterprising business of food…”
For this, Agriculture is the key. He actually saw Africa’s first tranche of billionaires coming from the farming and food sectors. And, why not?
Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment.