To analyse the dynamics of agricultural commercialisation and agrarian change across East, West and Southern Africa, an e-dialogue was recently convened by the Agricultural Policy Research Programme (APRA) in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Foresight4Food (F4F) on 20 January 2022.
The event began with participants engaging in three parallel regional presentations and discussions for East, West and Southern Africa, and culminated in a continental-level panel involving expert commentators and audience questions.
For the West Africa region, discussion addressed cocoa- and agricultural-related issues in Ghana and Nigeria. The first presentation saw Adebayo Aromolaran, ARPA’s Nigeria country lead and professor at Ajasin University, use evidence from Nigeria to explore whether medium-scale farms are a driving force behind agricultural transformation in Africa. Next, Fred Dzanku, APRA’s Ghana country lead and a research fellow at the Institute of Statistical Social and Economic Research, discussed approaches that can be taken in Ghana to achieve inclusive oil palm commercialisation. Kojo Amanor, a professor at the University of Ghana, then highlighted long-term patterns within the Ghanaian cocoa sector, before Adeola Olajide, an agricultural economist, summarised the issues and prospects surrounding cocoa commercialisation in Nigeria.
Launching the expert review discussion was Charles Abugre, executive director of the International Development Economics Associates, who highlighted that a food systems approach requires a broader focus on: food system activities beyond production, such as trade, transport and value addition; food systems outcomes beyond poverty reduction and food access, such as nutrition, employment and inequalities; as well as food systems drivers, such as the impacts of population, changes in consumption patterns and climate change. “We need to look at the bigger picture,” he stated.
Abugre also noted that questions remain with regards to the future of cocoa production given global price trends, climate change, farmers stepping into the sector, and income distribution effects at the local level. There is also an issue around sustainability, he said, as “the industry seems to rely very heavily on support from the State.”
Questions from the audience also focused on the issue of agri-value chain sustainability across the region, highlighting, for instance, the need for state incentives to encourage the continuation of small farm interaction with medium-size farms and the associated benefits. In a broader sense, the audience also questioned how the future of food farming systems is to be maintained at all if, in the long-term, agriculture is causing environmental destruction and is not resilient to climate change.
Also part of the expert review was Soji Adelaja, distinguished professor in land policy at Michigan State University, who emphasised the importance of APRA’s research in the region and the role it plays in supporting Africa’s agricultural future with regards to both commercialisation and economic transformation. For example, farmers who ‘step up’ into larger acreage farms are positively associated with productivity, and “as long as we can continue to push and encourage these farms, we can see the kinds of productivity increases that are consistent with economic transformation,” he said. But, Adejala continued, this correlation “indicates that there is room for policies to improve in commercial agriculture [to] attract larger players into commercial farming.”
Furthermore, Adejala also noted that gender- and youth-related challenges remain in the sector, “especially with larger-scale enterprises.” In his opinion, for farming to be truly inclusive, “the government really needs to pay attention to addressing these challenges and constraints.”
Continuing points discussed during his presentation, Aromolaran recommended that incentives be devised and offered by policymakers to encourage further interactions between medium- and small-scale farms.
Finally, Olajide stated that greater formalisation regarding contract farming is required throughout the cocoa and agricultural chains to create a more stable employment environment. In addition, policies which support cocoa consumption and utilisation within Nigeria need to be implemented – as once consumption and demand for produce are created, this will translate to increased production and expansion.
A wider perspective
Following the regional discussions, participants and speakers from each came together to share the key points and draw conclusions on a continental scale. Many focused on the issue of gender, with Patience Mutopo, founding chair and professor of the Centre for Development Studies at the Chinhoyi University of Technology, calling on the group to consider the ‘missing women’, and the need to engage them rather than consider them as victims. Janice Olawoye, professor at the University of Ibadan, noted that when the incomes of women farmers rise, health and educational outcomes improve. Kezia Batisai, associate professor at the University of Johannesburg, added that women need to be put into policymaking positions at all levels so they can become agents of change. Abugre called for a systems approach which would also address land grabbing, the overuse of chemicals and other inputs, and a broader set of goals to be achieved by agriculture, such as human and planetary health. Adelaja added that increasing populations, shrinking farm sizes, and climate shocks to this list, and said that Africa needs to become and remain self-reliant in terms of food production despite these challenges.
However, Isaac Minde, professor of agricultural economics and associate director of the Alliance for African Partnership at Michigan State University, emphasised the need to be realistic in terms of goal setting, policymaking, and monitoring, calling for achievable goals, implementable programmes, and prioritisation of areas of investment. This sentiment of looking to the future and ensuring sustainable progress was echoed by Dr. Mary Mutembei, head of the Rice Promotion Program at the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, who stressed the need to assess the impact and long-term benefits of transformational food systems on rural areas and disadvantaged groups.
Looking to the future
Closing remarks came from Ken Giller, professor of plant production systems at Wageningen University. He highlighted several key action points, including the need to raise awareness of these issues among governments and policymakers and the necessity of finding solutions that are flexible and can be adapted to a wide diversity of contexts. He particularly highlighted the persistent challenge that the poorest in Africa’s supply chains are left behind, and that they need more than commercialisation; they need policies to reduce inequality.