Remarks by Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Rajiv J. Shah “The Great Debate: Where is Africa’s Green Revolution Relative to its Vision?”
September 8, 2018
As delivered on Friday, September 7, 2018, at The African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali, Rwanda
Thank you, Jeff, and good afternoon.
I see many longtime friends and partners here today. And I particularly want to thank: AGRA’s board chair, Strive Masiyiwa, and AGRA’s dynamic and energetic president, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, for their commitment, leadership, and friendship; former Prime Minister Hailemariam, we all look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your leadership on agriculture, but also on Ethiopia’s historic, peaceful transition earlier this year; to the panelists participating in this great debate – including Dr. Donald Kaberuka, who is also a member of our board of trustees, and therefore my boss – welcome; and my colleagues at The Rockefeller Foundation who lead our Africa and Food efforts, including Mamadou Biteye, the Managing Director of our Africa Office, and Dr. Roy Steiner, our new Managing Director for Food based in New York.
We had an opportunity to honor former Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday evening and discuss his extraordinary moral leadership. What I most appreciated about Kofi Annan was his deep sense of respect, for every human being: from the farmer to the head of state. And his valuing everyone was so powerful that anyone who met him felt it immediately, and felt better about themselves and others because of it. We will miss him greatly.
This movement for a uniquely African Green Revolution was the aspiration of a broad group of African leaders, farmers, and stakeholders – none more visible than Kofi Annan. And he made it clear to everyone involved in launching AGRA that we embark on this mission to lift up those who are vulnerable.
Fifteen years ago in Maputo, when he called for an “agricultural transformation,” the famines in Ethiopia and Eritrea were a stark reminder of what he described as a “desperate need for Africa to develop the capacity to feed itself.” Since the early 1960s, yields per hectare in sub-Saharan Africa had been relatively stagnant – in fact, productivity was dramatically outpaced by population growth in that time. By 2003, 65 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population worked in agriculture, accounting for 22 percent of total GDP. Comparatively, in western industrial economies, agriculture employed only 6 percent of the population, and accounted for less than 2 percent of GDP, and yet was much, much more productive.
What did this all mean? It meant that Africa had the highest prevalence of hunger, hidden hunger, or stunting, and poverty on the planet. It meant that many rural communities suffered from an annual ‘hungry season,’ often made worse by draughts, conflicts, and displacement. And it meant that a tremendous amount of Africa’s most valuable asset, its people, were tied up in producing food rather inefficiently.
A uniquely African agricultural revolution was meant to beat hunger by making food more available and accessible. But this revolution was also meant to create a diversified, modern economy, where food production no longer dominated how nations deployed the majority of their labor.
So how far have we come in those 15 years?
It’s clear that African agriculture is getting much better. According to this year’s African Union scorecard, 10 nations are meeting the commitment to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets towards agricultural development. Fifteen more have made real progress towards that goal. Meanwhile 19 countries have met or exceeded the target of achieving 6 percent annual GDP growth in agriculture, with another 21 making real progress towards that goal.
And these gains have delivered real, human results. Households with a percentage of underweight children under five decreased from 26 percent in the early nineties to 18 percent in 2016. And stunting – the result of that hidden hunger – in children under five has also decreased, from 45 percent to 33 percent. Thanks to the work of those of you in this room, these children will lead lives that are more hopeful, and have more dignity, and have more opportunity. And that is an accomplishment for which we should all be very, very proud.
However, while agriculture is improving on the continent, agricultural transformation is simply not happening fast enough to keep up with population growth, a changing global climate, and the reality of fragile states. Since 2003, sub-Saharan Africa’s population has grown from more than 700 million people to over 1 billion people. The U.N. predicts that this will double by 2050. And this growth will likely be concentrated in the most fragile and climate-vulnerable parts of the continent.
The World Food Program’s Global Report on Food Crises indicates that acute food insecurity actually increased by more than 10 percent last year, to afflict nearly 124 million [people] due to conflicts in places including northeast Nigeria and South Sudan. But it’s also because of prolonged draughts causing multiple poor harvests in eastern and southern African nations where chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are already too high. Josette Sheeran spoke yesterday about Secretary General Annan’s goal of putting the World Food Program out of business – but 15 years after Maputo we need the WFP more than we ever have.
And on the question of whether Africa’s agricultural transformation is happening in such an accelerated way that it’s actually transforming the nature of Africa’s economies? To this we must admit the answer is no, not yet.
The latest World Bank numbers indicate that since 2003, the percentage of sub-Saharan Africa’s population employed in agriculture has gone down from 65 percent to 57 percent, and agriculture’s share of the region’s total GDP has gone from 22 percent to 16 percent – real progress. But the 8-point drop, over 15 years, in the share of labor employed in agriculture is simply too small to celebrate. At that rate, getting to the industrialized-country level of about 6 percent would take more than 90 additional years.
This is too long. We need to dramatically accelerate this uniquely African green revolution – and The Rockefeller Foundation will remain broadly committed to Africa’s growth and development to do just that.
So how do we get there?
First, we must improve policy, governance, and anti-corruption efforts – not only in the food sector, but also across all forms of public leadership and administration. I hope we all saw this week’s Africa Agriculture Status Report focused on state capacity, which noted that the lack of political will to do what’s required is, quote, “endemic,” and, quote, “the underlying cause of poor progress in agricultural growth, and hence of poverty reduction.” The fact that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s leadership and governance prize has been awarded rather infrequently illustrates that this is not a challenge restricted to this sector. But while public investment in agriculture – and aid – are up, we all know that too often, the agriculture sector is particularly subject to graft and policies intended to favor one political or ethnic group over another.
Corruption often is so prevalent in this sector that we shy away from encouraging robust state involvement our policy recommendations to shape food systems. Yet we know that no agricultural transformation, in any country, has ever succeeded without major public-sector engagement: Political will is essential, [as is] investment in research and development; support for inputs and financial services for farmers; investments in infrastructure to enable access to markets; and robust safety net programs that double as guaranteed demand for producers, and efforts to improve nutrition for vulnerable children and families.
At Rockefeller we are particularly committed to AGRA’s vision of a focus on policy and governance going forward – including the focus on measuring and reporting on these indicators in the African Agricultural Transformation Scorecard. We also understand that poor capacity to execute is often as detrimental as poor policies themselves, so we will explore new ways to support transparency, state capacity, and program implementation alongside and via AGRA. Our foundation has had the honor of supporting, over generations, hundreds or – thousands – of ‘RockyDocs,’ who have become senior decision-makers in their countries. Through the Leadership for Agriculture initiative, we will renew our commitment to helping them and their colleagues in leadership succeed in their mission.
Second, we know that success must be driven by investment and, in particular, investment originating from Africa itself. I had the honor of working to make this more possible when President Obama decided to use the 2012 Camp David G8 summit to launch the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which would go on to become part of Grow Africa. I’m thrilled Strive has come in on that note, because he has of course chaired that effort. This local enterprise-led approach to development continues to be supported by the current USAID Administrator, Mark Green, and is the defining feature of the Rockefeller YieldWise initiative as well.
In the years since Camp David, we have observed how real policy reforms coupled with deep engagement with African food and agriculture companies can accelerate investment – to expand fertilizer production, enable the growth of local seed companies, or incubate new consumer-oriented food businesses. But we’ve also seen that too often, commitments are not fully realized. We need to redouble this effort and now is the right time to do so. The fundamentals are still very strong: a growing middle class that will have greater demand for higher-value food products creates markets; better access to these markets for producers are on the horizon; the promise of more intra-African trade has been made real by a new trade deal; and more advanced local capital markets have enabled ever-larger local IPOs – all of these realities feed our optimism. That’s why we’re pursuing a number of efforts designed to allow finance to be more innovative in order to have greater impact for farmers.
For example, we are working with the African Development Bank and others to build a trading platform called Impact Bay, which allows more risk-averse investors to buy in to the bank’s $1 billion portfolio of mature private equity investments, freeing up capital that can then be redeployed into agriculture, energy, and light industry.
Third, we must leverage science and technology to build an African food system that leapfrogs over the experience of industrial countries, and produces more sustainable and more nourishing food with access for everyone. In 2003 less than 5 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa had mobile phone subscriptions; today it’s nearly 75 percent. Furthermore, new scientific advances are changing our fundamental understanding of soil, protein, and sustainable food, and nutrition. We can dramatically step up these platforms of innovation to accelerate Africa’s green revolution.
A future where a farmer can use her smartphone to take a photo of a diseased leaf on a banana tree, send it over SMS to an expert-based artificial intelligence system, and in return get a precise recommendation of how to treat the disease – with particular inputs even delivered to her by drone – may represent a viable alternative to traditional, and often broken extension services.
We already know African demand for protein will skyrocket in coming years, putting tremendous pressure on African agricultural production and the environment. We can invest now in sustainable protein production – including alternative feed sources like insects and algae; and even alternative foods themselves, like plant-based proteins and cultured eggs and dairy – so Africa can meet that demand for protein in a more sustainable, nutritious, and profitable manner than many other continents, including my own, which are overly dependent on red meat and livestock produced in concentrated animal feeding operations.
Now, for many years Dr. Akin Adesina has reminded us that African agriculture is and should be treated as a business. I would add that African agriculture can be a cutting-edge technology business. AGRA, and its partnership with more than 100 seed companies and several hundred more agro-dealers around the continent, has proven that farmers demand appropriate and improved technology, and are willing to pay for it. And at The Rockefeller Foundation – taking our inspiration from our longtime trustee and AGRA board chair Strive Masiyiwa – we’re committed to advancing these technologies and the new venture funds and business models required to ensure appropriate technology has system-wide impact.
We will continue to invest in new soil health technologies, new ways to optimize yields and minimize food loss, new ways to manufacture protein, and new ways to use data and artificial intelligence to better identify, reach, and evaluate farmer performance. But we also will work to introduce new off-grid solar solutions to electrify rural communities and bring innovations in finance to accelerate private investment. The Rockefeller Foundation of the future will focus on the fundamentals of human well-being – health, food, power, and jobs – to ensure that every family experiences dignity and opportunity in our rapidly urbanizing world.
AGRA was born out of an African movement to reinvest in the sector that shaped the lives and the realities of life for the vast majority of Africa’s people. That movement has lifted up millions of African families.
We’ve walked on farms in Western Kenya and witnessed the pride of a mother who had adopted hybrid maize and described how her children could now eat and go to school.
We’ve joined Northern Ugandan families as they taste-tested different forms of orange flesh sweet potato – and I remember our enthusiasm when the young children said they loved it, because we all knew it could then reduce their chronic vitamin A deficiency.
We’ve seen how making financial services available to Nigerian farmers has helped so many more of them treat their occupation as a real business, focusing on growth and profitability.
And I’ve seen countries like Ethiopia increase public investment in safety net programs that prevented dire weather events from causing famines for millions of people.
But we simply cannot wait another century to fully transform African agriculture.
This keynote address was originally scheduled to be delivered by Kofi Annan. If Kofi Annan were here today, he would implore us to come together and solve this great challenge facing our continent and our world. In our struggles, he would ask us to embrace friends and foes alike. And by believing in each of us, he would inspire us to work harder – on behalf of our values, and our common humanity.
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