Paul Boateng, a former British high commissioner to South Africa, MP, cabinet minister and civil rights lawyer, is a member of the House of Lords and a trustee of the Planet Earth Institute. In this interview with Mohammed Kandi and a group of African journalists sponsored by Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) to the UK for a week training, he suggests best ways African agriculture can be moved forward. Excerpts:What is your message to African leaders on adherence to implementing 10 percent budgetary allocation to agriculture as the main thrust of the Maputo declaration?
The leadership in Africa does not need me to give them lecture or send messages. All we have to do wherever we are as leaders, as parliamentarians, is listen to our constituency.
The fact of the matter is that, some two-third of the population in Africa, one way or the other, relies on and has links with rural agriculture. It accounts for 33% of Africa’s GDP. In fact, of all those people who are working the land, 60% of those are women. So I think the message should go to all of us as parliamentarians whether we are Africans or we are in the UK, the Europe, is listen to the people, and for the people, agriculture matters. So agriculture also ought to matter in terms of the national budget; we should be looking at how we can improve research and development in Africa in agriculture, how we reward science, technology, and innovations in terms of our budgetary allocations and listening to the small and a medium farmer in particular, because it’s about linking them to world market. Its about giving them the support they need in order to turn Africa into what it can become, the bread basket of the world, not a continent that is beset by food insecurity, not nations and continent that are spending hard foreign currency on importing food.
There is no need for Africa for Africa to import food. We live in a rich and bountiful continent, and what we need is to ensure that global policies, national policies, and regional policies support agriculture and agricultural development.
Why are most African leaders opposed to such brilliant ideas in getting Africa’s agriculture transformed?
Agriculture must be recognised as links between the towns, cities and the rural hinterland. Its about recognising too that agriculture can a source of employment for young people. We need to transform the way we see agriculture; we need to see agriculture as a source of jobs, source of adding value and we need also to say to the international community, we don’t just want to be growing things for you, we want to be growing things for ourselves, to create our own internal markets and we also want to be engaged in added value activities in actually ensuring that our agric industries provide benefaction- we are processing, we are packaging, we are marketing with African brands, owning our own intellectual property, linking ourselves to global market and then in that way, I will believe agriculture can transform the fortunes of our beloved continent.
Should African farmers sale or lease their farmland to foreign investors?
We need a mixture of investment; foreign and domestic. We need to make sure that in addition to big farms, we have small and medium size farm that are linked to those bigger farms and also linked to global market. So its about getting a balance, it isn’t about saying ‘big, bad, small, good’ its about getting a balance between foreign and domestic investment, between developmental systems and local funding because look, to be frank with you, we cannot as a continent continue to rely on others outside the continent. There is lots of money in Africa.
I was in Jigawa State in northern Nigeria. Nigeria now the biggest economy in Africa. We in sub-saharan west Africa should be celebrating that fact. One of the exciting things I found in Jigawa was that there lots of Nigerian money now going into Nigerian Agriculture, into not just production but also food processing, with Aliko Dangote and other leading the way. That’s the example we want all of us to see in Africa as an example to be followed. So its about getting the balance right and I have no doubts that we can’t do that, but it requires focus, it requires adherence to the Maputo declaration, it requires all of us to work together, and that includes not just parliamentarians, entrepreneurs but the traditional leaders, it includes involving women, involving young people, because when we work together, just as feathers of the eagle work together, there is nothing we can’t do, we can truly soar as a continent and as a people.