John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Revitalizing Africa’s Rural Future

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
December 11, 2012

A woman works in a rice mill in Aliade community in the Gwer local government area of the central state of Benue 05/10/2012. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Owen Cylke. Mr. Cylke is a development professional and a retired senior foreign service officer with USAID.

Dr. Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki, Executive Secretary of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), this week declared his organization’s intent to “revitalize” development efforts in Africa. Recognizing the successful and well-supported efforts of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which has been the foundation for development efforts in Africa since its launch in 2003, Dr. Mayaki was careful to describe his intention as a natural next step in the CAADP process.

CAADP itself has all the indicia of success. Following years of neglect, agriculture is once again central to the development agenda in Africa; and this African-led initiative has found affirmation and substantial support from the G8, donor communities, and not-for-profits such as the Gates Foundation. Indeed, Gates’ “End Hunger in Africa” and USAID’s “Feed the Future” programs define the central themes of international engagement in Africa’s development today.

But as we all know only too well new realities emerge over time. France’s CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development) supported a multi-year research effort in collaboration with the World Bank (RuralStruc) which has identified a demographic time bomb. There will be seventeen million new entrants to Arica’s workforce each year by 2030. The current agriculture sector cannot accommodate these numbers, and the current urbanization phenomenon in Africa is not producing jobs on that scale either. Dr. Mayaki, as a founder of the African think tank Le Hub Rural and as former Prime Minister of Niger, has emphasized the economic and political challenge of youth employment for years. It is not surprising then that Dr. Mayaki’s declaration was in the context of a signing of a new General Agreement between CIRAD and NEPAD in Paris on December 4, 2012.

NEPAD’s effort to “revitalize” development efforts in Africa is organized under the rubric of Rural Futures, capturing space for agriculture, while emphasizing the links between and necessary transition from on-farm to off-farm employment, agriculture to industry, rural to urban settlement. In collaboration with WWF, NEPAD has also emphasized the links between this necessary progression, the environment, and sustainability–relieving pressures on the region’s fragile landscapes and creating the potential for investments in a green economy inherent to the process of transition.

Equally portentous, Rural Futures points in the direction of a new approach to rural development itself. Moving away from the traditional focus on a defined or particular geography to one that takes account of the connections between different geographies, as they together create economic zones, underscore national economic cohesion, and support the evolution of regional economic progress. The question now will be whether international donor communities can follow on Dr. Mayaki’s leadership and support his vision of a more dynamic and promising Rural Future for Africa in the design of their ongoing agricultural programs.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    As an African, resident in Africa, I haven’t seen much (or any) evidence of all these high sounding USAID, NEPAD etc schemes.

    I could be wrong, but I doubt it. When I actually go to my village, I will talk to the farmers there – and they will tell me that nothing, zero, zilch has changed.

    That story is repeated through out Africa.

  • Posted by Reimund Kube, Rural Development Advisor

    Facing a still growing population, Africa will continue to need a wide small farming sector. This does not only have to feed itself but also small rural towns and, additionally, it has to deliver the raw material on which future industries will be based. Rural towns between 100-500.000 inhabitants are more important for Africa’s development than the largely uncontrollable Mega-cities. The latter will have to be fed by a modern agricultural sector using the best soils, but which avoids the unsustainable methods that defines agriculture in the “developed countries”. It has to be labour-intensive, as this is the most abundant resource in Africa.Old and new forms of urban agriculture will also play a role. Foreign organizations will have a role to play, but should start to take the Accra/Paris et al. agenda seriously. The private sector should be seen in a realistic way and not be transfigured into “savior institutions”- poverty reduction and wealth creation are very different things that need different approaches. Only a well crafted cooperation between strong governments, responsible enterprises and an informed and empowered civil society will finally bring the world on the right track, (re?)vitalizing Africa’s societies and creating a better future for everyone.

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    It is my strong belief that foreign NGOs have no significant role to play in Africa’s future – and anything they say about Africa’s agricultural future is as significant as background white noise.

    Having said that, large supermarket chains are likely to influence African agriculture more positively than fifty years of NGO involvement ever did – for the simple fact that they understand the business of agriculture – which NGOs don’t.

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