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Donald Kaberuka on improving agricultural productivity

Donald Kaberuka on improving agricultural productivity

Donald Kaberuka on improving agricultural productivity

When Deng Xiaoping began introducing his agricultural reforms to China in 1978, the impact on productivity was astounding. By 1984, the country’s rice output had increased by 30%, according to FAOSTAT figures. Could Africa do something similar?

Absolutely, according to the African Development Bank’s outgoing president Donald Kaberuka, but getting there now depends on political will. Speaking at the 2015, Grow Africa Investment Forum Event in Cape Town on 3 June, Kaberuka said the obstacles to Africa’s agricultural growth can all be overcome, and there’s no reason the continent can’t have its own Green Revolution.

“In the 1980s macroenconomic policies such as overvalued currencies held us back, but those days are gone,” he said. “What the Chinese have done, we can do too.”

Kaberuka identified a handful of key issues that need to be resolved. One of them, he said, was land titles, and this was something China had successfully addressed in its reforms.

“You begin by anchoring property rights. If you go from communal land to land owned by a farmer, with a title which is bankable, then financial institutions can provide loans. In countries where land ownership is a problem for women, it’s time to get that resolved.”

Another issue is infrastructure, which is something the African Development Bank already focuses on.

“Our contribution is to make sure the infrastructure is there, that roads are in place and that agriculture is not dependent on rain,” said Kaberuka. “This also helps to stop the 40% of food that is currently wasted across the marketing chain.”

But do people even want to work in agriculture? Africa has the youngest population in the world, and its cities are growing fast. Farming has long been associated with subsistence, rather than seen as a career. Fortunately there are signs of change here, according to Kaberuka.

“Young people are not walking away from agriculture, they are running. They’ve been lured to some imaginary El Dorado, and they’re dying in their thousands in the Mediterranean. But I also think we are turning a corner. I have seen university graduates going into farming. There is hope.”

For Kaberuka, that hope depends partly on reframing Africa’s ambitions, moving away from the goal of the continent feeding itself towards wanting to be part of global value chains.

“That’s what will create the internal dynamism, in cities and in rural areas,” he said.

The progress made in other parts of the world – in China, but also other countries such as Vietnam, India and South Korea – can all provide a model for agricultural growth in Africa. Not to copy wholesale, necessarily, but to inspire.

“The Green Revolution in India was about chemicals and fertilisers. Our African Green Revolution will be about biological advances, reducing losses, enabling markets to function, and managing water systems. Vietnam became the second-largest coffee exporter in the world within a decade and a half. We know how to do it, but it’s all about political will now.”