African nations will be hit hard by the global economic crisis during the course of 2009, the United Nations and the African Union (AU) say in a new report, which stresses the need to focus on agriculture, the mainstay of economies on the continent.
“Modernising agriculture is crucial to development and industrialisation in Africa, to food security, sustained poverty reduction and integration of Africa in the global economy,” says this year’s Economic Report on Africa.
The report, an annual publication of the AU Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), calls for special attention to agriculture, since Africa is heavily dependent on this sector for providing employment, generating economic growth, foreign exchange earnings and tax revenue.
“Agriculture is still the mainstay of economic development and yet a very neglected sector for decades in Africa,” Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division at the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), told reporters as he launched the report.
He noted that Africa, which has the largest agricultural potential per hectare and per capita, is still a net food importer. “What Africa needs is a long-term focus on agricultural development and a transformation that would help further economic diversification, job creation and, through that, poverty reduction,” he said.
The report, entitled “Developing African Agriculture through Regional Value Chains,” highlights the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), adopted by the AU in 2003.
In the framework of the CAADP, it points to a strategy that creates regional value chains that link agriculture to other sectors of the economy as the best way to initiate and sustain development in Africa.
These value chains will include forward and backward linkages, from agribusinesses, agro-processing, ethanol production, other industrial processes to soil management, high-yielding seed varieties and fertiliser production, according to the report.
Lila Hanitra Ratsifandrihamanana of the AU noted that the theme of this year’s report not only tackles a major sector of the African economy, but is also relevant to the theme of the AU summit to be held in July in Sirte, Libya, which is investing in agriculture for economic growth and food security.
The report adds that the impact of the global financial crisis has already resulted in lower demand for Africa’s export and a sharp decline in commodity prices. At the same time, it says that sustained economic reforms, exchange rate adjustment, easing of inflation and efforts to revive domestic demand will contribute to low but still positive growth rates in some African countries in 2009.