Jennifer Blanke is the Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank (AfDB). In this interview, she speaks on the seventh African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, how to mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture, the bank’s Feed Africa Strategy, and other key issues.
What are the goals of the AGRF-AfDB partnership?
The African Development Bank’s Feed Africa Strategy is to transform African agriculture over the next decade into a competitive and inclusive agribusiness sector that creates wealth, improves lives and secures the environment. The goals of Feed Africa are to help eliminate extreme poverty in Africa by 2025, end hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025, make Africa a net food exporter, and move Africa to the top of export-oriented global value chains where it has comparative advantage.
For its part, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) focuses on catalysing smallholder farmer productivity to unleash agricultural transformation by using an integrated value chain approach, with an emphasis on staple crops.
AGRF is a multi-stakeholder partnership effort led and coordinated by AGRA. Its primary objective is to foster public-private partnerships and drive sustainable agricultural productivity as a catalyst for enhancing long-term food and nutrition security, and ultimately, broad-based economic growth for Africa. AGRF is thus a vehicle for unlocking the full potential of agriculture as a driver of economic growth and stability for Africa and transforming smallholder farms into productive and profitable businesses.
Both the bank and AGRA focus on fostering agriculture as a vehicle for inclusive and sustainable economic transformation in Africa, and eradicating poverty and hunger. To this end, since 2010 when the first AGRF was held in Accra, Ghana, the bank has participated in all of the meetings: Tanzania, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Zambia, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire.
The AGRF continues to serve as a vital medium for exchange aimed at unlocking the full potential of Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness to help drive growth and standards of living and transform smallholder farms into productive and profitable businesses.
How does the AGRF event align with the African Development Bank’s High 5s?
Since the primary objective of AGRF is to foster public-private partnerships and drive sustainable agricultural productivity, as a catalyst for enhancing long-term food and nutrition security, and ultimately, broad-based economic growth for Africa, there is strong alignment between the Forum and the African Development Bank’s High 5s.
The bank’s blueprint of operational priority areas, referred to as the High 5s also constitute its vision for African economic transformation. Launched in June 2016, these are to: Light up and Power Africa, Industrialise Africa, Integrate Africa, Feed Africa, and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa. Two of the High 5s – Feed Africa, and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa – are fully aligned with the purpose and activities of the AGRF.
SDG 2 focuses on end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
What are AfDB’s key initiatives in reducing malnutrition on the continent?
Within our High 5s strategy, AfDB is poised to invest significantly more in fighting under-nutrition through nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific activities across all of its sectors by means of partnerships and direct investments, bringing together both critical sides of the equation: food producers and nutrition experts. Indeed, improved nutrition is an articulated goal of Feed Africa, to end hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025.
The bank’s key flagship initiatives for nutrition include the Grey Matter Infrastructure which consists of banking on nutrition (mainstreaming nutrition as a cross cutting issue across the bank’s portfolio, capacity strengthening of bank staff, monitoring and evaluation framework); and capacity strengthening in the ECOWAS region. The bank is addressing institutional, organisational and human capacity gaps for nutrition in the West African region with a focus on strengthening and harmonising existing nutrition training modules, developing a skilled workforce for nutrition, and creating a network of nutrition training institutions and/or centre of excellence for nutrition in the region
We also have the African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) initiative which leverages high-level membership to increase the visibility of nutrition, strengthen political will and encourage policy and financial commitments and spark investment and progress on nutrition goals such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) /Malabo targets and the SDG 2. This includes the dissemination of an updated economic case for cost effective nutrition interventions, proposal of evidence-based policies and programs and the development of an accountability scorecard to track progress towards Malabo & World Health Assembly nutrition targets.
AGRF 2017 will focus on accelerating Africa’s path to prosperity by growing economies and jobs through African agriculture. How does this align with AfDB’s initiatives?
As we are all aware, there is a dearth of jobs for the many young Africans coming into the job market. By some estimates, there are only three million formal jobs awaiting more than 12 million young people who join Africa’s workforce each year. Yet they represent a massive opportunity for Africa’s economies if their talents are harnessed. The goal of AfDB’s wider Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy is to create 25 million jobs and equipping 50 million youth in the 10 years leading up to 2025.
This is being achieved through various channels. For example, the bank is equipping itself and its regional member countries to become engines of job creation, ensuring that all projects we finance have a job creation or vocational training component. In addition, the bank is assessing, incubating, implementing, and scaling up promising solutions, as well as catalysing private sector investment for job creation.
Within the agricultural sector, AfDB has approached the continental youth unemployment challenges through the Empowering Novel Agri-Business-Led Employment (ENABLE Youth) model by designing a programme to empower young graduates at each stage of agribusiness value chains. It develops ‘agripreneurs’ by harnessing new skills, technologies and financing approaches so that young people can establish viable and profitable agribusinesses, creating jobs and income for themselves and others.
Is the green revolution really possible in Africa?
The Green Revolution is absolutely possible in Africa. India has shown what can happen in a relatively short period of time. But it has not happened yet given a number of well-known constraints: the lack of decent roads, storage, extension capacity, and finance to name but a few. But when governments and companies invest in agriculture, dramatic gains are possible. Just look at what has happened in Ethiopia (floriculture), Kenya (horticulture), Nigeria (e-wallet and efficient input distribution system), Rwanda (various crops), among others. For the green revolution to happen in Africa, there is an urgent necessity to increase productivity and to move up the value chain into processed foods. Africa cannot feed itself while getting only a quarter of its potential yields and without processing what it grows.
To what level is climate change a threat to the green revolution in Africa, and what measures can mitigate any possible threat?
Climate change is a fundamental threat for Africa. Given its susceptibility to the effects of climate change and other extreme weather events, African agriculture must be developed to simultaneously address three intertwined challenges: ensuring food security through increased productivity and income, adapting to climate change and contributing to climate change mitigation.
Addressing these challenges will require radical changes in our food systems. It was precisely to articulate these changes that FAO forged the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture, as a way forward for food security in a changing climate.
The goal is to improve food security, help communities adapt to climate change and contribute to climate change mitigation by adopting appropriate practices, develop enabling policies and institutions and mobilizing needed finances.
For Africa to reap the potential benefits, multiple actions must be taken. This ranges from improving our evidence base underpinning strategic choices, promoting the adoption by farmers of appropriate technologies, creating supportive policy frameworks and public investments and developing and implementing effective risk-sharing schemes among others. The bank has set up a climate smart agriculture flagship with highly qualified staff to ensure that all of our activities in the agriculture space are fully climate proof and climate smart.