TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014 – 00:00 —

BY ALEX O. AWITI

Cereal yields in Africa are less than 50 percent of
those in Asia or South America.

FAO estimates that
one in five Africans is undernourished.

Malnutrition,as measured by stunting affects nearly 40 percent of
children in Africa.

Moreover, Africa will need to feed
an additional 900 million people by 2050.

Agriculture supports the livelihoods of 80 percent of
the African population, provides employment for
about 75 percent but contributes less than 15
percent of GDP. For Africa, sustainable and equitable
growth is inextricably bound to agriculture.

Africa’s ubiquitous poverty and economic decline becomes
easily explicable when you take into account the dire
state of agriculture.

Hunger, malnutrition, disease and poverty present
formidable barriers to Africa’s productivity, growth
and prosperity.

According to President Museveni,
malnutrition impairs educational achievements,
undermines economic productivity and places a huge
burden on Uganda’s fragile public health system.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) recognizes that
Agriculture is vital to promoting growth and reducing
poverty in Africa.

As an African scholar and public intellectual, I am
scandalized and my pride is deeply wounded by the
unending specter of hunger and malnutrition.

It is shameful, beyond measure or pardon, that fifty years
with Africans at the helm, little progress has been
made to guarantee every African child sufficient and
nutritious food.

I am sure there is enough blame to
go round; the UN system and the multi-billion dollar
international aid honchos are not innocent.

But, ultimately, the burden of responsibility must
rest with people like me, Africa’s intellectual elite.

Stagnation of agriculture has been the defining
feature of Africa’s economic policy over the last four
decades.

Spending in agricultural research and
development by African countries declined by 27
percent between 1981 and 2000.

Conversely,spending in agricultural research and development
rose by 30 percent in rest of the developing world;
Asia and Latin America.

Egged by experts the African Union, through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development
Programme (CAADP), has set a growth target of 6%
per annum for agriculture and encourages every
country to allocate 10 percent of the national budget
to agriculture.

CAADP called for $251 billion to fund
investments in irrigation, infrastructure, education
and markets.

Today, less than handful countries
allocate 10 percent of their national budget to
agriculture and critical investments in agricultural
research and development lag behind other
developing regions.

Like all areas, which are critical to Africa’s
development, such as education, energy, biodiversity
conservation and the extractive sector, experts have
besieged agriculture.

Africa is drowning in advisors.

Invariably, the overabundance of external advisors
diminishes the cachet of local experts.

As Bill Easterly argues in his new book, The Tyranny of
Experts: Economist, Dictators and the Forgotten
Rights of the Poor, the appeal of technocratic ideas
persists beyond overt racism and colonialism.

Africa has been through a multitude of expert-led
technical solutions but hunger still persists.

Evidently, agriculture is not a vaccine.

You cannot have a breakthrough in Boston and roll it out in
Vihiga.

Ultimately, African universities and national
research systems must engage, define the problems
and offer appropriate solutions.

But one fundamental
question remains, can African scholars or their
institutions deliver the research and development
breakthroughs that have eluded agriculture for more
than half a century?

And is government and private
sector ready to put their money where their mouth
is?

Africa has a large and growing population of young
people.

Where will young Africans currently entering
the labor force find employment?

Africa has the lion’s
share of the world’s arable land.

Agriculture is uniquely positioned to absorb this young and
dynamic workforce.

Africa’s youth dividend will not
be credited automatically into the national treasury.

We can harness the youth dividend by accelerating the transformative change in agriculture.

African governments and their expert advisors must
wake up.

There is no such thing as a dual economy in
which agriculture is a passive actor – a low
productivity supplier of food and a subordinate driver
of national growth and economic transformation.

Agriculture is the real driver of Africa’s economic
growth.

There will be no transition to China-style
labor-intensive manufacturing until agriculture is
productive, efficient and profitable.

Our path to middle income and economic prosperity
must be different.

Africa must shun technical
advisors external beholden to the antiquated linear
growth models – from hunter-gatherer to agrarian to
industrial to service and knowledge.

Our research and academic community must re-imagine our
unique path to prosperity.

Dr. Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute and assistant professor at Aga Khan University.

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