Agriculture remains one of Africa’s most important economic sectors, accounting for over 15% of the region’s Gross Domestic Product GDP and providing employment to more than two-thirds of the population.
If the sector’s most notable challenges can be overcome, agriculture could play an even larger part in transforming economies. In particular, governments across the continent are working with international organisations to find solutions to the rising effects of climate change. Nevertheless, the overall is quite bright; cultivated areas are expected to expand and farmers are set to increase their use of inputs, such as fertilisers, improved seeds, irrigation systems and mechanisation.
According to Oxford Business Group Agriculture in Africa report 2019, Africa holds more than 60% of the world’s arable land, but the continent’s share in global agricultural production is low. Vast areas of land are not cultivated and productivity is lower than in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, farming is key for the majority of African economies and accounts for at least 15% of the region’s GDP. In addition, around two-thirds of the African population is employed within the agricultural sector, the vast majority working in small-scale plantations that currently produce at least 90% of overall food production.
The report said chronic long-term underinvestment and poor governance have resulted in an agricultural sector that has been unable to play a role in transforming Africa’s economies, either by ensuring food security, creating jobs or reducing poverty. Now, the sector faces many challenges, the most notable of which is low productivity. This results from a variety of factors, some of which include low use of inputs and irrigation systems. In this context, farmers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change- a fact that has shed light on the need for increased attention an investment in the continent’s promising agricultural sector.
It indicated that Africa’s 30.4 square kilometres boast a diverse range of agro-ecological areas and climates. These include rainforest vegetation with tropical weather, found in the south of West Africa and in Central Africa from Sierra Leone to the Congo’s. Other areas are dry and arid vegetation, such as those countries in the continent’s Sahel region.
‘’This diversity is a tremendous asset, but it also poses a substantial challenge for African agricultural development,’’ Abidjan-based African Development Bank stated on its website. ‘’On the other hand, it creates a vast potential with respect to the mix of agricultural commodities and products which can be produced and marketed in domestic and external markets. On the other hand, the diversity implies that there are no universal solutions to agricultural development problems across the continent’’ it said.
According to Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, during colonial period- which for most African countries ended around the 1960s- agriculture was the most significant sector in the continent’s economy. At this time, farmers were made to produce cash crops which were then exported to European countries as raw materials for their own growing industries. The exported cash crops included: cocoa, coffee, palm oil and rubber from West Africa: cotton from the Sahel region; tea and coffee from East Africa; and tobacco and sugarcane from the south of Africa.
‘’In general, food crops were not promoted and farmers grew them for subsistence only’’ the IFPRI reported. ‘’During the colonial period, Africa was developed essentially as an agricultural-exporting economy. This goal was achieved with some success, as evidenced by the number of African countries being top global producers of tropical cash crops’’. Cote d’Ivoire, for example, has become the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans. Today, the country accounts for 40 per cent of the world’s cocoa input.
After independence, the report said many African countries focused on financing local manufacturing and considered agriculture to be a less productive food supplier. As a result, the post-colonial period was characterised by underinvestment in the agricultural and rural sectors. Consequently, Africa’s agriculture recorded poor performance throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with production in sub-Saharan Africa growing on average by only 1% annually between 1971 and 1980, compared with the 3% growth seen throughout Asia. Land productivity was also two to three times lower than that observed in Asia.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the International Monetary Fund IMF and the World Bank pushed for the implementation of structural adjustment programmes SAPs, which were schemes designed for poor nations and countries in crisis, intended to reduce the role of governments in the economy. Countries were asked to implement these SAPS as a pre-condition for loans or external resources. The report said key measures included liberalisation of the economies, with the abolition of regulations such as price controls; privatisation of state-owned companies that were considered to be inefficient, reduction of public expenses and promotion of foreign direct investment FDI.
Further according to the IFPRI, the austerity measures resulted in a reduction of government spending in the sector. In sub-Saharan Africa the share of public agriculture spending inn the total budget declined to an annual average of 3.3% in the 1990s, down from 7.4% in the 1980s. The expansion of cultivated land meant that production growth climbed higher than in the 1970s, though productivity remained low, with output per ha of land at approximately 180 US Dollars in 1990. This was about one-third of the yields producer in Asia.
The report indicated that in 2003 the African Union launched the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme CAADP, a strategy centred on agriculture, with the goal of reducing poverty and ensuring food security. The programme defined agriculture as a main engine of economic growth, and called for African governments to allocate 10% of their annual budget to the sector with the target of 6% annual growth. The Maputo commitments made in 2003 were renewed in 2014 in Malabo Equatorial Guinea.
One of the CAADP’s most notable achievements has been that it ‘’has significantly raised the political profile of agriculture’’ according to the IFPRI. Some 40 countries has signed CAADP agreements by the end of 2014, with many nations designing their own investment plan for the agricultural sector. However, the CAADP’s targets are still far from being met. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa only achieved a 2.6% average annual growth rate in the agricultural sector between 2003 and 2009.
Nevertheless, six countries- Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mozambique, Nigeria and Rwanda- have managed to meet the growth goal of 6%. In regard to the investment target, in 2016 just 13 countries had successfully met their pledge to invest at least 10% of their budget in agriculture.
According to the Alliance for a Green revolution in Africa AGRA: ‘’Progress has generally been slow, mainly because many countries, despite the willingness to do what is right, grapple with capacity challenges that hinder their ability to design and implement a transformational agenda’’ it stated in its 2018 Africa Agriculture Status Report.
AGRA noted that recent policies placing farming at the heart of Africa’s economic development and promoting public investment in the sector are key to developing agriculture across the continent. However, more needs to be done to improve the poor structural governance seen in some African governments: although the private sector dominates the agriculture sector, its success is only made possible with public investments and policies.
‘’The past norm in African countries has been poor governance with respect to the agricultural transformation. Poor government performance has been in part associated with past foreign aid efforts at reducing the size and scope of government. Those policies were felt quite harshly by the agriculture sector, which depends heavily on government actions, and thereby inhibited the growth of the small-scale commercial private sector that dominates the sector. AGRA said. ‘’Fortunately, more recently these foreign aid policies appear to have been reversed, however, the quality of governance continues to be poor in many African countries’’
According to AGRA, Ethiopia, and to a slightly lesser extent Rwanda and Ghana, are positive examples for the continent when it comes to successful large-scale agricultural expansion. For the past 25 years Ethiopia has recorded sector growth above the 6% target defined by the CAADP. The East African nation has massively invested in its agriculture, including in irrigation and made the CAADP in a 50% reduction in rural poverty.
According to Thomas Jaine, professor at Michigan State University, public investments in the agricultural sector have had a direct and measurable impact on productivity. Jaine stated that recent yield improvements were observed in countries that embraced the AU’s CAADP scheme, especially in Ghana, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”