For Africa's farmers it's government, not big business, that is key
The discussion panel, organised by the The Guardian newspaper and reported in an article on 18 January 2017, featured participants from the private sector and non-governmental organisations. It considered whether multinational business should have a greater role in the continent’s agriculture sector and what that role should be.
The panel discussed the fact that Africa’s farms have registered sustained growth in productivity every year since 2005. Despite this, African farmers still produce far less food per hectare than the world average. Yields for cereal farmers in South Africa, home to one of the continent’s most productive agriculture sectors, are less than half those of their UK counterparts. In central African states such as Niger and Eritrea, they are less than a 10th. One of the key differences between the UK and Africa is the role of the private sector. In the UK, as in much of the developed world, corporations control a large chunk of the food chain, although this is not the case in Africa.
Panellists at the public debate, supported by the global beverage firm Diageo, had differing views but agreed that government, not corporate, leadership was the critical factor in developing agriculture. One participant argued that African governments – not big business – were the lynchpin to driving change in the sector and that legislators should earmark 10% of state budgets for agriculture. Another identified access to finance as a breakthrough issue too, suggesting that legislators mandate domestic banks to make preferential loans to poor farmers.
Businesses of all sizes – big and small – have a role to play as do governments and civil society. Several attendees also expressed concerns about big business, especially around the checks and balances needed to ensure that Africans profited from corporate investment and not just foreign shareholders.