With food security now on the global agenda, leaders are turning to African agriculture as the answer to the question of how we feed the future. It is clear that we must invest in Africa’s potential for rapid and sustainable agricultural growth. To coincide with the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2012, held in September in Arusha, African Business is publishing a Special Report on agriculture.
The Forum is spearheaded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), which has a dynamic new President, Jane Karuku, a Kenyan with over 20 years of extensive business experience, mostly in the agriculture sector. In the interview overleaf with African Business, Mrs Karuku outlines her plans for the future.
African Business: What does AGRA need to do to maintain (and accelerate if possible) the current momentum towards achieving a Green Revolution in Africa?
Jane Karuku: As part of AGRA’s leadership team, I am focused on achieving three important goals by 2020. First, we are working to double the incomes of 20m smallholder families.
Secondly, we are engaging partners to reduce food insecurity by 50% in at least 20 countries. Finally, we want to put at least 15 countries on track to attain and sustain a uniquely African Green Revolution – one which supports smallholder farmers, protects the environment and helps farmers adapt to climate change. These are ambitious goals, but I am confident that through collaboration with other donors and the private sector we can feed the future and help Africa prosper.
Q: What will it take to move African agriculture past its tipping point, where an increasing number of stakeholders say we now stand?
A: African agriculture is at a critical turning point. To rapidly expand yields and economic potential, we need additional investment – from African governments, donors, the private-sector and others that will fuel necessary growth.
We also need to continue to focus investments across the agricultural value chain – from seeds to soil, market access, policy and partnership and innovative financing. We need to ensure balanced growth across the sector to transform subsistence farming into sustainable, viable commercial activities that will increase yield across the continent.
Q: If you could glimpse Africa’s agricultural sector 10 years on, what do you think would it look like? More to the point, what should it look like?
A: AGRA has a clear vision of the future of African agriculture. In 10 years I believe we can deliver a more food secure, prosperous continent achieved through rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers who produce staple food crops.
We know the majority of African smallholder farmers are hardworking, enterprising women. Unfortunately, gender obstacles driven by cultural and societal norms often preclude these women from fully participating in growth in the agricultural sector. We must overcome and eliminate these challenges if Africa is to transform the capacity to feed itself and realise the quality of life envisioned for rural households and communities. I truly believe we can work across sectors and borders to transform agriculture into a highly productive, efficient, competitive and sustainable system to assure food security and lift millions out of poverty.
Q: How has your perspective on African agricultural development changed now that you are leading the AGRA quest for transforming the business of agriculture?
A: I am convinced now, more than ever, that we have to start looking at farming in Africa as a business with the potential not to just feed our people but to be an engine for development. Agriculture has the potential to transform Africa into a global leader, so we must explore every opportunity. All stakeholders must be involved. There must be collaboration between the public and private sectors to invest in agriculture and grow economies strategically.
Q: What should we expect from AGRF 2012 and, looking forward, from future Forums? What is your personal vision for AGRF?
A: AGRF 2012 is the next milestone in an important global conversation focused on food security – WEF Africa, the G8 Summit, the UK Hunger Summit and now AGRF 2012. The forum will focus on how Africans can take the lead in delivering on the global commitment to a more food secure future.
AGRF will remain focused on unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential by empowering smallholder farmers. By collaborating with farmers’ organisations, civil society and other partners, the discussion will explore new ways to provide resources, overcome challenges and improve yields for the millions of farmers who are working on less than two hectares of land across the continent. If we provide African farmers with the tools they need to grow more and improve their incomes, they will help lead us all into a more prosperous future.
Q: What do you consider to be reliable indicators of success in the AGRF context?
A: AGRF 2012 is an important precursor for the 10th anniversary of the 2003 Maputo Declaration, in which African nations committed to allocate 10% of national budgets to agriculture and rural development. Our success indicator will be to multiply the numbers of African countries committed to meeting the important targets established nearly a decade ago.
Q: On a more personal level, what attracted you to the position of president of AGRA?
A: I am excited to be part of the journey to transform the lives of millions of smallholder farmers, and I feel I can make an important contribution to the people of Africa and its future generations.
Q: What was it about you and your background that made you feel the position was a good personal and professional fit?
A: Several of my previous positions involved working with smallholder farmers. Smallholder farming is a way of life in Africa, full of challenges and equally full of huge opportunities.
We have to start looking at African farming as a business with the potential not to just feed our people, but to grow our economies. To do that, we will need the private sector. We also have to make agriculture more appealing for the next generation of young people because they the future of Africa. I bring strong experience to deal with these challenges and the exciting opportunities before us.