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Unlocking agriculture’s potential in Southern Africa

Development of agribusiness and agro-industries is critical

Discussion session at the workshop. Photo © FAO/Rachel Nandelenga

30 November 2017, Johannesburg - Stakeholders in Southern Africa have underscored the important role of agribusiness and ago-industries development in reducing hunger and poverty and creating jobs and sustainable growth of the region.

Over 50 participants representing the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) member countries, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) met in a three-day workshop from 28 – 30 November 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa to discuss the subject matter.

The objective of the meeting was to raise awareness and enhance the capacity of stakeholders for scaling up of agribusiness and agro-industries interventions in the region. Participants also shared information, lessons and experiences about existing policies and interventions in the region. Participants also shared information, lessons and experiences about existing policies and interventions in the region.

Tapping Africa’s potential

Speaking at the workshop, David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, noted that the region’s enormous agricultural potential could be harnessed to drive economic growth, stimulate development and improve food security.

“There are considerable opportunities for accelerating the development of agriculture and related agri-food value chains in Africa,” he said.

Phiri added that the growing youthful population of the region could provide a pool of labour and entrepreneurial potential to support of agribusiness and agro-industries development.

Approximately 70 percent of the population in Southern Africa depends on agriculture for a livelihood. The majority are smallholder farmers who rely on subsistence production.

Despite the region’s potential and enormous natural resources such as arable land and water, most countries are net importers of food.

“The population is growing steadily and will require an increase in food availability. There is now a middle class with higher purchasing power and changing consumption habits, technological advances and environmental factors such as climate change that calls for the transformation of the agricultural sector, ”, said Stepanka Gallatova, Agro-Industries Officer, FAO Regional Office for Africa

Inclusive growth and partnerships

Participants and agribusiness experts advised that all efforts to develop the agribusiness and agro-industries sectors must be inclusive, benefit smallholder farmers and involve public and private sector actors.

“Both the private and private sectors must cooperate and align their programs. We cannot operate in silos if we would like to transform the agriculture sector”, said Victor Thindisa, the Director, Agro-Processing, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of South Africa.

Enabling factors

Participants also pointed out bottlenecks that SADC Member States have to address to advance the agribusiness and agro-industries sectors. These include high post-harvest losses, food loss and food wastage, inadequate market information systems, weak governance of land tenure systems, insufficient financial resources for farmers and weak regulatory and trade policies. They called for a shift from subsistence agriculture to a productive agricultural industry that allows smallholder farmers to engage in value chains to improve their livelihoods while reducing their risks and increasing their resilience.

“Without linking smallholder farmers to value chains, they are condemned to produce only for subsistence and will not benefit from the market economy,” said Mbosonge Mwenechanya, a representative of COMESA.

Member States also have to address production factors such as access to seeds, fertilizers, crop protection products, irrigation systems and machinery.

In line with global and regional priorities

Efforts to develop the agribusiness and agro-industries sectors are in line with global and regional  priorities as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Africa Agenda 2063 - a strategic framework developed in 2013 for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years, the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the African Union Continental Agribusiness Strategy. It is also consistent with FAO’s Strategic Objective on “Enabling inclusive, efficient and sustainable agriculture value chains and food systems at local, national and international levels”.

Participants identified key actions that will be undertaken by the Member States and other stakeholders to drive agribusiness and agro-industries development in the region. These include awareness raising and capacity building of actors and strengthening coordination and collaboration between private sector actors and policymakers. They requested FAO to continue disseminating tools, knowledge and information on agribusiness and agro-industries development with stakeholders in the region. The Member States agreed to undertake an analysis of agribusiness and agro-industry interventions and policies to inform their country-level and regional agro-industrial strategy development.

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