Limited knowledge about agriculture, as well as a lack of commitment and consistency are some of the reasons for African governments struggles to put the right policies in place to ensure agricultural transformation on the continent.
“This (African) region needs enlightened policy guidance to allow the private sector to come into play to ensure that agriculture can grow and transform,” said Patrick S. Jayne, co-director of the Alliance for African Partnerships at the 4th Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI) gathering, held in Cape Town recently.
He delivered the keynote address during a session on Agricultural Transformation in Africa and the role of parliamentarians.
Jayne reiterated the need for regional policy groups like ReNAPRI. He said recent growth in the African agricultural sector was attributed greatly to area expansion, but policies are required to ensure that future growth is led by growth in yield and productivity.
Jayne said that ReNAPRI plays an important role to aid African governments, who remain the biggest investors in agriculture on the continent, and to identify the areas where they need to invest their scarce resources. He added that to lead agricultural transformation, the continent needs to be self-sustainable.
“From where I sit in the parliament in South Africa, it is very clear that few members of Parliament (MPs) understand agriculture and that is why research play such an important role,” said Anette Steyn, South African shadow minister of agriculture for the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Mboni Mhita, MP from the African Union (AU) Committee on Rural Economy, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment in Tanzania, confirmed Steyn’s statement and added that the lack of expertise meant that MPs thus lack courage to approve necessary policies and funding in agriculture.
Richard Mkandawire, chair of the National Planning Commission in Malawi, commented that governments come and go, meaning there is a lack of consistency, unity and continuity, and added that a long-term vision is needed for policy implementation.
He also said it is important to define agriculture to ensure that governments can know what they need, how far they should go with investments and how far resource commitments should stretch.
Geordin Hill-Lewis, South African shadow minister for trade and industry for the DA, observed that another issue is not only the lack of commitment, but towards whom these policy commitments are made.
“There are well established agricultural interest groups in several countries, and it does seem as if these interest groups have a considerable say in government. Laws and regulations are written to protect these groups from competition and from new, up-and-coming farmers in their market.”
He also said, from a trade perspective, that it is important to remove obstacles that obstructs inter-African trade.