By Jimoh Babatunde
Former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has emphasised the need to invest in technology to modernise agriculture in Africa and increase access to affordable finance for smallholder farmers.
He said this is required to increase productivity.
Obasanjo, who spoke as a member of the Africa Progress Panel at the ongoing Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank holding in Kigali, noted that though few farmers have access to finance, the cost of it is still excessively high with interest rates ranging between 18 and 20 per cent.
“There is no way farmers can make it at that rate of interest unless they are producing cocaine,” he said, underscoring the need to provide affordable financing to farmers.
Obasanjo added: “Agriculture should not be seen just as a development project – it should be seen as a business. Whether you are talking of small scale or medium size – this is very important. African farmers are living in antiquity by the material that they use, including inadequacy of infrastructure and poor access to markets. This should not be so.”
Speaking at the interactive session, Donald Kaberuka, President of the AfDB, emphasized that increasing productivity in agriculture is critical for sustainable development and .poverty reduction
“Improving agricultural productivity is not rocket science. People know what to do – the question we must ask is why people are not doing it?” he said, pointing out that several countries, including Cape Verde and Rwanda, are already demonstrating the possibilities for agricultural growth.
The AfDB, through its investments in rural infrastructure; agricultural productivity enhancement through support to research; and sector capacity-building and knowledge-sharing on appropriate development policies for the sector in Africa, has helped to improve agricultural productivity and competitiveness in the region. Viswanathan Shankar, the Group Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Standard Chartered Bank for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Americas, observed that since the majority of Africans depend on agriculture, investing in the sector is critical to reducing inequality and creating jobs.
He noted that access to finance can be improved by investing in the entire agriculture value chain. In her remarks, Claire Akamanzi, the Chief Operating Officer of Rwanda Development Board, said Rwanda has managed to sustain growth in agriculture on average at 8 per cent over the last decade due to the Government’s heavy investment in the sector, including ensuring access to financing for small farmers. Over the past few decades, a growing concern about Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector has been its poor performance in terms of productivity and yield of main food staples, as well as market access and product pricing.