28 May 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York





Agriculture was a mainstay of development in Africa, but was also a neglected sector, Robert Vos, Director, Development Policy and Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, told correspondents today at the launch of the 2009 Africa Economic Report, adding that “regional value chains” could enhance African agricultural markets through cooperation, rather than focusing on competition between African countries.

Introducing the joint African Union/Economic Commission for Africa report entitled “Developing African Agriculture through Regional Value Chains”, Lila Ratsifandrihamanana, Permanent Observer of the African Union(AU), said that one of the main goals of the economic reports on Africa was to identify policy challenges in Africa and to suggest practical solutions.  This year’s report’s focus on agriculture tackled a major sector of the African economy and would be relevant to the theme of the July AU Summit in Cirte, Libya, with the theme:  “Investing in Agriculture for Economic Growth and Food Security”.

She said the AU had developed a number of instruments since the adoption of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) in 2003, including the 2008 Sharm El Sheikh Declaration addressing the challenges posed by the current food crisis.  The 2009 report also tackled other important issues, such as the impact of the global financial economic crisis on African countries, which had already increased poverty and made attainment of the Millennium Development Goals even harder.

Mr. Vos said the global crisis had hit Africa hard.  Prior to the crisis, it had strong economic growth, because of institutional reforms and fewer conflicts, but was hampered by a lack of diversification and low productivity in the agricultural sector.  For 2009, a negative economic growth of 5 per cent was expected across the region, compared to a positive economic growth of 5 per cent in 2008.  The deceleration was characterized by lower export revenue; failing Government revenue; weakening of aid flows; and failing private capital flows.

He said that agriculture was a mainstay of development in Africa, but also a neglected sector.  The sector was isolated from other sectors and poorly linked to regional and global markets.  Moreover, agricultural imports far exceeded exports, and food prices were on the decline.  A long-term focus on agricultural development and diversification was, therefore, needed.

Continuing, Mr. Vos said that policies to establish “regional value chains” could enhance African agricultural markets through cooperation and a focus on crops with higher regional competitiveness, rather than focusing on competition between African countries.  Regional partnerships should be used to strengthen cooperation in the distribution sector, sharing of information on best practices and new technology.  An example of such cooperation had been done in the cotton sector in southern Africa, including through internationally certified organic cotton.  That “green” revolution should become a “rainbow” revolution, by using a variety of agricultural products for industrial processing.

He said the report recommended:  improved macroeconomic management; coordinated action by donors and development partners; strengthening of regional coordination for trade negotiations and resisting protectionism; and fulfilment of “Aid for Trade” commitments.  To that end, public spending should be increased, high-yield farming practices and technologies should be used, and the rural infrastructure and distribution networks should be improved.

Asked about practices by entities from the Arab region that were buying swaths of land in, for instance, the Sudan for agricultural production destined for Arab markets, and whether that constituted “neo-colonialism, Mr. Vos said that, if the capital inflows took place in isolation, it could be seen as such.  The financial resources mentioned, as well as aid flows, could be better used for strengthening regional development banks.  A part of strengthening regional value chains included establishment of private-public partnerships, also in the context of South-South cooperation.

Ms. Ratsifandrihamanana added that innovative ideas for mobilizing funds, to be suggested at the upcoming AU Summit, included establishment of an African Agricultural Fund.

Answering correspondents’ questions about South-South cooperation in trade, Mr. Vos noted that such cooperation already existed, for instance in a demand for African agricultural products by Asian countries.  Interregional South-South trade had, however, been small.

Ms. Ratsifandrihamanana added that the AU was developing more partnerships with southern countries, such as China, India and South American countries.

Using genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds in African agriculture was a controversial issue in some African countries, Mr. Vos answered to another question.  Where use of such products was permitted, however, it had potential.  Ms. Ratsifandrihamanana added that the AU was very cautious about GMOs.

Asked about the potential of biofuel production in Africa, he said ethanol production had potential for the future, but not now, as subsidies in the United States for corn already affected Africa’s food security.  Biofuel production using agricultural waste, however, had great potential.

The report is available on www.uneca.org/era and www.africa-union.org

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For information media • not an official record