By Isaiah Esipisu
NAIROBI, Sept 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - African farmers are set to benefit from tens of billions of dollars pledged by African leaders, development banks, the private sector and international donors at a conference in Nairobi this week.
Commitments of more than $30 billion have been made so far at the African Green Revolution Forum, to transform agriculture on the continent over the next decade - said by organisers to be the largest package of financial commitments to Africa's agriculture sector to date.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged $200 million to help 150,000 young farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs gain access to markets, finance and insurance in the next five years.
"I challenge fellow heads of states in Africa to accelerate their investment in agriculture for the benefit of the continent as a whole," he said.
Around 70 percent of Africa's population depends on agriculture for food and income, but many farmers are still struggling with poverty and poor nutrition.
A report released on Tuesday by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) said African countries that took early action in the past decade to invest in agriculture had reaped the rewards, enjoying higher economic growth and a bigger drop in malnutrition.
But much more funding was needed to expand progress across sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) answered that call, saying on Thursday it would invest $24 billion in African farming over the next ten years, a 400 percent increase over its previous commitments.
"I want Africa to feed itself and develop with pride," said AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina.
Part of the bank's funding will support an international programme to get modern agricultural technologies to millions of small-scale farmers in Africa. The bank will also help them access commercial loans.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to contribute at least $5 billion to African development over the next five years, of which around a fifth will be used to expand crop and livestock research, strengthen data, and improve systems to deliver better tools, information and innovations to farmers.
In the next six years, the continent will also benefit from $3 billion pledged by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in keeping with its policy of allocating at least half of its annual $1.1 billion spending to Africa.
Most of its investments are targeted at creating jobs in farming and food production, particularly for youth and women.
"Those of us who have been fortunate to achieve so much over a rich and full lifetime must now do everything in our power to provide our young people with opportunity and hope," said IFAD president Kanayo F. Nwanze, who was awarded the new Africa Food Prize this week.
LESS WASTE, MORE FERTILISER
A further $180 million was pledged by the Rockefeller Foundation, including $130 million for AGRA's Yieldwise initiative to strengthen crop storage, handling and processing capabilities to reduce significant post-harvest losses on African farms due spoilage or pests.
"Food loss and waste across the value chain threatens farmers' livelihoods," said Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin, noting that 40 to 50 percent of some staple crops are lost after harvest.
Fertiliser firm OCP Africa will invest $150 million over the next five years to support local fertiliser distribution, storage and blending, while Kenya Commercial Bank Group will channel $350 million into business opportunities that could reach some 2 million small-scale farmers.
The World Food Programme, meanwhile, promised to purchase at least $120 million each year in agricultural products from smallholder farmers through a partnership called the Patient Procurement Platform, which will expand into Kenya and three other countries next year.
Africa should take lessons from Asia, which rapidly expanded public investment in the agricultural sector to achieve a green revolution, said AfDB's Adesina.
"In order to unlock the potential of African agriculture, we need a stronger role for the governments," he said.
In addition to boosting investment, he and others noted the need for sound policies that are not subject to political whim.
"We should not waste time in reversing policies whenever there is change in governments," said Adesina. "We need good policies which are consistent."
(Reporting by Isaiah Esipisu; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)