Wednesday, 20 March 2013

"Donors go home!" Money and politics in African agriculture

Mandi RukuniBy Susanna Thorp, WRENmedia / FAC

"Donors just go home!" was the strong call made in a session on the progress made by the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), 10 years after it was initiated. The progress made over the last decade, and what comes next, has been a recurring theme at the Political Economy of Agricultural Policy in Africa conference.

"African economies are growing at 4-5% so they have plenty of fiscal resources. If donors pulled out, African governments would have to respond in investing more in agriculture." However, echoing arguments made by Adebayo Olukoshi in his opening address on Monday, the CAADP panel re-emphasised that even if more resources become available, this would not necessarily lead to more investment in agriculture. "Agriculture is seen as a potential black-hole," said Mandivamba Rukuni. "We have to convince our banks and ministries of finance that their support will trigger more wealth; that for every dollar invested, a return of two to three dollars will be achieved."

CAADP could create a space for dialogue where conditions are currently difficult, according to Rukuni. But, a decade on, the Programme needs a positive vision, passion and confidence in African history and practices.

African governments have been criticised for their lack of political will in investing more in agriculture, and for a gap between rhetoric and action. Can donors be accused of the same thing? After the food crisis of 2007/8, John Barrett of DFID admitted, in the morning session, that donors woke up to the fact that they had neglected agriculture and rural development for the past 10-15 years. “There was a tremendous renaissance around tackling food security,” Barrett said. “And our commitment to reverse decades of neglect culminated in the Aquila Declaration. It was the first time we had a commitment, a number and a target but the challenge is how to transform that into food on plates. Five years on it is important for us to examine what impact that has had.”

“CAADP could be the best thing that has happened to Africa,” said Bubu Khan, although some countries are better than others at implementing it – and learning from their mistakes. “CAADP is one framework that has African ownership. However it now needs a strong focus on women and youth and a more pragmatic response on climate change.” Colin Poulton expressed concern that whilst 40 CAADP compacts have now been developed in recent years, many of these exist only on paper in order to be donor compliant and have not been implemented. “More monitoring and evaluation for effective implementation is required.”

However, what progress can be made when, as Chance Kabaghe ex Minister of Zambia stated from his experience, that “politicians will always take advantage – so will technocrats. We start out well with the best of intentions but we now have to ask ourselves how we best get out of the situation.” Gem Argwings-Kodhek threw out a challenge to his peers in suggesting “perhaps we need to hear more from the politicians so we get to know what they really think so we can enter into a more effective dialogue, instead of just talking to one another.”