The Africa Progress Panel  (a group of the great and good, chaired by Kofi Annan) recently launched its 2014 Africa Progress Report. It’s an excellent, and very nicely written (heartfelt thanks) overview of some key areas: agriculture, fisheries and finance. Some highlights:
‘For more than a decade, Africa’s economies have been doing well, according to graphs that chart the growth of GDP, exports and foreign investment. The experience of Africa’s people has been more mixed. Viewed from the rural areas and informal settlements that are home to most Africans, the economic recovery looks less impressive. Some – like the artisanal fishermen of West Africa – have been pushed to the brink of destitution. For others, growth has brought extraordinary wealth.
There is much cause for optimism. Demography, globalization, new technologies and changes in the environment for business are combining to create opportunities for development that were absent before the economic recovery. However, optimism should not give way to the exuberance now on display in some quarters. Governments urgently need to make sure that economic growth doesn’t just create wealth for some, but improves wellbeing for the majority. Above all, that means strengthening the focus on Africa’s greatest and most productive assets, the region’s farms and fisheries. This report calls for more effective protection, management and mobilization of the continent’s vast ocean and forest resources. This protection is needed to support transformative growth.
The achievements of the past decade and a half should not be understated. Economic growth has increased average incomes by around one-third. On the current growth trajectory, incomes will double over the next 22 years. Once synonymous with macroeconomic mismanagement and economic stagnation, Africa now hosts some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Contrary to a widespread misperception, there is more to the growth record than oil and minerals – and more than exports and foreign investment. African business groups have emerged as a powerful force for change in their own right, in areas such as banking, agro-processing, telecommunications and construction.
For the first time in a generation, poverty is falling – but it is falling far too slowly. Why is growth reducing poverty so slowly? Partly because Africa’s poor are very poor: those below the poverty line of US$1.25 a day live on an average of just 70 cents a day (see graph). And partly because high levels of initial inequality mean that it takes a lot of growth to reduce poverty even by a little. Raising the growth trajectory by 2 percentage points per capita and modest redistribution in favour of the poor would get Africa within touching distance of eradicating poverty by 2030 (see below).
Well-designed social protection programmes could play a vital role by protecting vulnerable people against the risks that come with droughts, illness and other shocks. By transferring cash, they can also raise income levels. Experience in other regions – especially Latin America – demonstrates that social protection can simultaneously help to reduce poverty and inequality, and boost growth in agriculture. Yet Africa underinvests in this vital area – and few governments have developed integrated programmes. By contrast, they spend around 3 per cent of GDP on energy subsidies, most of which go to the rich – three times the level of support provided for social protection. It is hard to imagine a more misplaced set of priorities.
If Africa is to develop a more dynamic and inclusive pattern of growth, there is no alternative to a strengthened focus on agriculture. Sub-Saharan Africa is a region of smallholder farmers. Some people mistakenly see that as a source of weakness and inefficiency. We see it as a strength and potential source of growth.
Africa’s farmers have an unrivalled capacity for resilience and innovation. Operating with no fertilizer, pesticide or irrigation on fragile soils in rain-fed areas, usually with little more than a hoe, they have suffered from a combination of neglect and disastrously misplaced development strategies. Few constituencies can have received more bad advice from development partners and governments than African farmers. And few of the world’s farmers are as poorly served by infrastructure, financial systems, scientific innovation or access to markets. The results are reflected in low levels of productivity: cereals yields are well under half the world average.
It is time for African governments and the wider international community to initiate a uniquely African green revolution. We emphasize the word unique. Copying South Asia’s experience and retracing the steps of other regions is not a viable strategy. Agricultural conditions in Africa are different. Yet Africa desperately needs the scientific innovations in drought-resistant seeds, in higher-yielding varieties and in water use, fertilizer and pesticide that helped to transform agriculture in other regions. Returns on investments in these key areas will be diminished if deep-rooted policy failures are not tackled. These range from exorbitant transport costs for farm produce to underinvestment in storage and marketing infrastructure and barriers to intraregional trade.
Harnessing Africa’s resources for African development is another priority. Fisheries and logging show some striking parallels with tax evasion. In each case, Africa is being integrated through trade into markets characterized by high levels of illegal and unregulated activity. In each case resources that should be used for investment in Africa are being plundered through the activities of local elites and foreign investors. And in each case African governments and the wider international community are failing to put in place the multilateral rules needed to combat what is a global collective action problem.
The social, economic and human consequences are devastating. On a conservative estimate, illegal and unregulated fishing costs West Africa alone US$1.3 billion a year. The livelihoods of artisanal fishing people are being destroyed, Africa is losing a vital source of protein and nutrition, and opportunities to enter higher value-added areas of world trade are being lost. Unregistered industrial trawlers and ports at which illegal catches are unloaded are the economic equivalent of mining companies evading taxes and offshore tax havens. The underlying problems are widely recognized. Yet international action to solve those problems has relied on voluntary codes of conduct that are often widely ignored. The same is true of logging activity, with the forests of West and Central Africa established as hot-spots for the plunder of timber resources.’
If you can find the time, do read the rest of the report – it’s really good.
This post first appeared on From Poverty to Power .
Photo Credits: First photo of fisherman repairing his net by Eric Miller via World Bank Photo Collection, available here . Second photo of men bringing in their catch by Arne Hoel via World Bank Photo Collection, available here .
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