Farmers in Kenya.

Investing in domestic agriculture is the only way to achieve welfare and development in Africa, says the debater. Photo: CIAT (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Invest in agriculture in the African countries

Many leaders in Africa have taken the easy way and imported cheap food from Europe and North America. To succeed in building a welfare state, it is necessary for African leaders - and the outside world - to invest in domestic agriculture, writes Inge Gerremo, expert on global food issues.

In the autumn, DN employees Anders Bolling and Erik Esbjörnsson published the book The billion raise - How the world is changing by a growing Africa. In different ways, they want to give hope about what we can expect from a continent with its 55 countries that has so far slipped worryingly in their development since independence more than 50 years ago. The focus of the book is on sub-Saharan Africa.

Other observers, who have had long contact with that part of Africa, have in recent years given us similar descriptions. I am thinking of Sten Rylander, a longtime ambassador to several African countries, with the book Africa is turning, published in 2014. A similar theme was created by Erika Bjerström, now SVT's foreign commentator, with the book The new Africa which came in 2013. What can we expect from the countries in Africa, when the population - now 1 billion - gradually the UN's population forecast can expect to reach 4 billion and together with Asia will be the two big giants on our planet? At the same time, America and Europe are expected to account for the rest of the world population of 10 to 11 billion by 2100.

In many of the African countries, there are good conditions for developing what every other country has needed so far to lift itself out of poverty, that is, agriculture. At the same time, there was a growing cloud of concern in our part of the world about the possibilities of free trade - even during the initial development stages of the African countries. This realization of the potential for free trade grew in countries that had already passed the stage of the African countries at that time.

Easy to import cheap food

At the same time, in Europe, a successful European agricultural policy, CAP, had passed the self-sufficiency needs we primarily wanted to achieve during the post-war period in order to instead produce significant surpluses of various basic commodities. Similar trends existed in North America. The African countries thus came to be "flooded" with opportunities to import cheap food or get it in the form of food aid. What could be easier for a busy Tanzanian finance minister, to take an example, than to order a shipment of wheat, milk powder and so on - free to the port of Dar es Salaam, instead of laboriously, together with other relevant ministries, authorities and representatives of the farmers, build the necessary infrastructure required for their own food production.

Own agricultural development stalled, small-scale farming came to a standstill at about the same level, the need for food production led to the development of some large-scale production in some of the countries. This could take place on large areas of land leased for a long time to foreign companies or countries such as China and in the Arab world.

Agriculture is needed for welfare

The agricultural sector and efficient and sustainable food production should now be given the highest priority. The insight into this is the most gratifying when I read Bolling's and Esbjörnsson's book. That message also agrees well with what Rylander and Bjerström point out in their books.

It is particularly gratifying that they have come to that realization without being part of that sector as I myself am. Here they see real opportunities for the welfare development that is now needed and which can cause today's alarming population growth to hopefully level out. That development has almost always started with the development of agriculture. In a shorter period, there would then be more resources to develop the economies thanks to a larger share of working age in relation to the elderly and children. This is what can give the billion boost that the title of Bolling's and Esbjörnsson's book refers to. Thus, there should also be great opportunities to create conditions for young people on their way into the labor market and be able to provide good income opportunities and as an alternative to some of the migration we have seen in recent years.

Personally, with long experience of following developments in many African countries, I am much more concerned about the general development trends we have seen and are seeing in Africa so far. Today's African leaders hardly give the impression of being able to create the development Bolling and Esbjörnsson seem to see.

There are, of course, gratifying exceptions, such as the head of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, and a number of other younger, insightful leaders of various influential institutions. In some cases, this also applies to leaders of countries such as Ethiopia with the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. However, most of today's leaders have so far failed to break with today's traditional structures as the basis for their government formation. Nor has civil society been able to develop organizations in the service of society as a whole and with a broader perspective than its own ethnic group.

Investment in agriculture is required

It is important that the African countries are now activating a development based on agriculture, as many of them mentioned in the initial decades after independence. Not least the climate issue places new demands.

Today's and future African leaders must now seriously address the question of how to provide for a population within the continent's borders that looks set to reach four billion by the turn of the century and where the majority will live in cities.

These are issues that were also addressed at the regular meetings between the EU and the African Union, AU. In what way, among other things, could the EU assist in the work of creating better conditions for, for example, young people to stay and develop their own countries? Agriculture and neighboring industries have a central role to play here. A special expert group for rural Africa has been formed within the EU. It is therefore important to now push for the work of supporting the African countries in such initiatives both within the framework of the EU's development cooperation and what Sweden wants and can conduct bilaterally with various African countries.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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