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African countries should invest more in agriculture and agro-processing to boost industrialisation on the continent, Akinwumi Adesina, the African Development Bank President (AfDB), has said. He noted that there is need for both governments and private sector bodies to partner and leverage the continent’s resources to transform the sector amid the global economic recession.

Adesina also urged governments on the continent to promote research and good practices that can help African countries, including Rwanda, to improve their agricultural production for more sustainable growth.

« Agriculture contributes over 28 per cent of Africa’s GDP, holds the key for the accelerated growth, diversification, and job-creation on the continent, » he said.

It is therefore critical that states inject more resources to boost sustainable development on the continent, he added.

Adesina was speaking during the annual African Economic Conference (AEC) 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria on Tuesday. The conference on the theme, « Feed Africa: Towards Agro-Allied Industrialisation for Inclusive Growth », attracted 300 agriculture experts and policy-makers from across the continent. He lauded Rwanda’s achievements in agriculture and poverty reduction.

« Agriculture provides the basic raw materials needed for industrial development. Food accounts for the highest share of consumer price index, and providing cheap food is critical for taming inflation. When inflation is low, interest rates decline and it brings greater private sector investments. A more productive, efficient, and competitive agriculture sector will boost rural economies, where majority of the population live in Africa, » Adesina said, adding that the future of Africa depends on agriculture.

Citing achievements by Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, as well as South Korea, the AfDB chief said Africa could use agriculture as a solid foundation to build strong agro-based industries and hence create more jobs and ensure food security.

Abdalla Hamdok, the acting ECA executive secretary, called for new policy approaches to incentivise agricultural production activities and sectors with higher returns so that Africa can benefit from commodity-based industrialisation and agro-alliance.

« Our desire for structural transformation will not be realised without strong and inclusive institutions that are backed by well-coordinated development plans and supported by innovative and flexible industrial policy mechanisms, » stressed Hamdok.

Current estimates indicate that 65 per cent of all the uncultivated arable land in the world that can feed nine billion people by 2050 lies in Africa.

However, the continent spends $35 billion annually importing food. This has huge implications for Africa, including loss of income and jobs. With the food and agribusiness sector projected to grow from US $330 billion to $1 trillion by 2030, the continent simply cannot afford to unlock this hefty opportunity.

Prof Eric Maskin of Harvard University and co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in economics, called for greater skills development « to provide people in rural areas with requisite expertise to get jobs in agro-based industries ».

« Governments need to get involved in skills training and education in agriculture because the sector has the highest number of the unskilled labour force… There is no higher priority than investing in people, » he said.

The agriculture sector employs over 72 per cent of the Rwandan population, and contributes about 33 per cent to GDP annually.

The sector is currently expanding at 7 per cent; the target is 8.5 per cent annual growth rate by 2018.