Mbeki: agriculture ‘should be main driver of change’

Thabo_Mbeki_former_South_African_presidentFormer South African president, Thabo Mbeki, addressed the recent AGCO Africa Summit in Berlin, Germany

“As all the delegates know, the majority of the peoples of Africa earn their living from agricultural activity, principally in subsistence agriculture,” said Mbeki. “Thus it is obvious that virtually all the principal challenges our continent faces are intimately related to African agriculture, and, accordingly can only be solved within the context of the positioning of agriculture as a central driver in the process of the renewal and development of African society.”

Mbeki cited from a 2000 World Bank book titled, Can Africa claim the 21st Century? During his speech: “Though Africa’s agriculture has responded to limited reforms, it remains backward and undercapitalised, the result of centuries of extractive policies. Recapitalising the sector will require maintaining and improving price incentives (including by encouraging competitive input markets), channelling more public spending and foreign aid to rural communities (including for local infrastructure), and tapping into the savings potential of farmers. These changes are also needed to create incentives to reverse severe environmental degradation. Public-private partnerships can make a contribution, including in agricultural research and extension, where a regional approach would also help. And wider access to OECD markets for agricultural products would make a big difference.”

Mbeki also highlighted the importance of agri-processing in developing the agriculture sector. “I would like to emphasise this matter of value addition for the very obvious reason that to sustain the old colonial economic relations, in which Africa served as a producer and exporter of raw materials, including agricultural products, only serves to perpetuate our continent’s underdevelopment. It is true that Africa continues to face many challenges, especially relating to issues of democracy, peace and stability. As Africans, and as I have said, we are firmly determined resolutely and urgently to address all these matters, especially through the structures of the African Union, in our own interest, without any arrogant prompting by our international partners.”

Mbeki added that Africa’s economic growth since the 1990s has been planned, rather than fortunate. “It was the outcome of purposeful actions by the governments and peoples of Africa to change their condition in a positive direction, relating to the issues of governance and peace, as well as the important matters of economic policy and practice. [The continent has] entered a new era to which all forward-looking investors should pay close attention.”

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