By David Iorja (ABUJA)
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday in Dakar urged African leaders to demonstrate political will and re-commit themselves to transformation of agriculture in the continent.
In his goodwill message to the Feed Africa Summit of Heads of State and Government, the President called on his counterparts to embrace innovative policies that ensure the continent’s citizens eat what they produce as well as export the surplus.
President Buhari also welcomed the provision of $538.05 million by the African Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development for the first phase of the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZ) for Nigeria programme.
With rising inflation globally and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that have driven up food prices, especially for basic staples such as wheat and maize, the Nigerian leader listed measures that African leaders must take to change the status quo.
‘‘Feeding Africa is an imperative.
‘‘We must ensure that we feed ourselves today, tomorrow, and well into the future. The starting point is to raise agricultural productivity. This requires the access of farmers to quality farm inputs, especially improved seeds, and fertilizers and mechanization.
‘‘To succeed, we must strongly support farmers.
‘‘There is no doubt that we need to subsidize our farmers, but we must do so in ways that are transparent, remove rent seeking behavior and effectively deliver support to farmers.
‘‘The share of budget allocation to agriculture should be increased across Africa, especially for investments in critical public goods, such as research and development, infrastructure, especially roads, irrigation, and energy.
‘‘As leaders, let us decisively ensure that we meet the 10% allocation of our budgets to agriculture as agreed in the Malabo Declaration of the African Heads of State and Government.
‘‘We must reduce the rate of rural to urban migration through the development of rural areas,’’ he said.
President Buhari noted that the future of agriculture in Africa would depend on getting more youth into agriculture, which means making agriculture attractive for them.
‘‘To feed Africa, we need younger male and female farmers. We must also ensure that they get access to land, finance, technologies, information, and markets.’’
The Nigerian leader therefore requested that the Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts arising from the Summit must address ways to improve empowerment of the youth and women in agriculture.
‘‘We must take into consideration climate change and ensure that agricultural systems are climate-smart and climate-resilient.
‘‘We must invest heavily in irrigation to help address increasing frequency of droughts that are leading to decline in crop yields.
‘‘I am convinced that the very targeted and bold approach of using the Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts will allow Africa to finally break through and feed itself.
‘‘Feeding Africa is not negotiable. Africa must grow what her citizens eat. As leaders, we must demonstrate political will and re- commit ourselves to producing for the continent’s needs, including surpluses for export,’’ he said.
The President applauded the efforts of the African Development Bank to launch SAPZ, recounting that he had launched the scheme in Nigeria in October 2022.
‘‘The Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones for Nigeria, which is in the first phase will cover seven States in the Federation.
‘‘These very innovative public-private partnership models will help us to transform the agriculture sector much faster and use it to generate wealth.
‘‘They will also allow our countries to develop integrated infrastructure around our agricultural processes and add value to the production of crops, livestock, and fisheries,’’ he said.
On SAPZ funding for Nigeria, President Buhari said:
‘I am pleased with the partnership approach used for Nigeria by the multilateral financing institutions, with the African Development Bank providing $210 million, the Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development providing $310 million, and the Government of Nigeria providing $18.05 million.
‘‘The Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones are game changers for the structural transformation of the agricultural sector.
‘‘I therefore urge that as we develop the Food and Agriculture Delivery Compacts from this Summit, special attention should be placed on the development of Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones.’’
President Buhari also used the occasion to call for affordable financing to support smallholder and commercial farmers, underscoring the need for dedicated financing windows from the central banks.
‘‘Access to affordable finance is critical for the success of efforts to support smallholder farmers and commercial farmers. Commercial banks do not lend much to agriculture due to the perception of high risks.
‘‘Generally, less than 3% of total financing by commercial banks in Africa go into agriculture. We must therefore reduce the risks of lending faced by commercial banks. But we must go beyond commercial lending.
‘‘Where possible and countries can afford to, the central banks can also dedicate significant resources to complement lending from commercial banks.
‘‘Such dedicated financing windows from the central bank must be well monitored, to ensure that they reach the intended beneficiaries, must be transparent and must not crowd out the commercial lending sectors, or the private sector.”
President Buhari commended Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank for the vision to drive the Summit, together with the African Union Commission.
‘‘Dr. Adesina has continued to do an excellent job at the helm of the African Development Bank,’’ he said.