Mali demonstrates how Africa can achieve a green revolution
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29 October 2017
Author :   Isaiah Esipisu
Africa Agriculture Status Report 2017 : >> Image Credits by:Isaiah Esipisu

ABIDJAB, Ivory Coast (PAMACC News) - The Mali ‘Rice Initiative,’ which sow the country move out of a food crisis situation in 2008 to a currently food exporting country has been cited as a good example that other countries can follow to become food secure.

In 2008, food prices rose all over the world, a situation that led to food riots globally with West Africa countries suffering many of the incidents. “We had no choice other than developing a policy that would later see our country out of the crisis,” said Dr Dembele Bourema, who until July 2017 was Director for research at Institut d'Economie Rurale.

As a matter of urgency, the government of Mali formed an initiative that would see farmers buy certified seed, important farm inputs and even machineries for land preparation at highly subsidised prices, and by 2010, the country was producing enough for domestic consumption according to Dr Bourema, now the Programme Officer for Africa Green Revolution Alliance (AGRA) in Mali.

AGRA works with research institutions in the country to produce and multiply seeds locally for the farmers, following the increased demand.

“It will take commitment of African governments to stimulate and guide the transition. If left to the private sector alone, growth in the agrifood system will not be as fast as it could, nor will it benefit as many smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs as it could,” Dr Agnes Kalibata, the AGRA President for told Thomson Reuters Foundation at the 2017 Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Abidjan.

Her sentiments are also registered in the Africa Agriculture Status Report released on September 5, 2017.

Following the ‘Rice Initiative’ in Mali, which has now expanded to supporting other staple food crops not limited to sorghum, millet, cowpeas, ground nuts and maize, the country has been allocating at least 15 percent of the national budget to agriculture, superseding targets to invest ten percent of GDP in agriculture, agreed at the 2003 African Union (AU) Summit as part of The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

Apart from seed and farm input subsidy, the government of Mali started buying new 1000 tractors every year from 2009 and selling the same to farmers at half price. But farmers were and are still allowed to pay just 20 percent of the value of the machinery in cash, and then pay the remaining 30 percent as loans to commercial banks in installments.

Poor farmers were not left behind because they were and are still allowed to buy the machineries at the same subsidised rate through groups as long as they demonstrate ability and willingness to cultivate at least 50 hectares of land.  

By 2008 when the initiative was thought through, the West African nation was producing only 900,000 metric tons of rice against domestic consumption of 1.1 million metric tons. But in 2016, Mali produced 2.7 million metric tons of rice with government subsidies worth CFA35 billion ($61.7 million) in the entire agriculture sector. This rice production is double the country’s annual consumption.

For food in general, the country produced 3.6 metric tons in 2008 and eight years later in 2016, the country managed 8.7 million tons which is far more than what the country consumes domestically. “In 10 years to come, I don’t think food will ever be a challenge to anybody in the country,” said Bourema.

According to William Asiko, the Executive Director for Grow Africa, countries must create initiatives to increase rice production especially in West Africa, where it is the main staple. “Rice is going to be the biggest challenge for Africa because countries highly depend on imports from sources that are totally unsustainable,” he told PAMACC News in an interview.

“When we invest in production, we create market to seed and fertilizer companies which are investment and business opportunities. When we produce in plenty, we create further opportunities for processors, and when we process enough, we further create opportunities for transporters and sellers,” said Asiko.

The Africa Agriculture Status report 2017 points out that the power of entrepreneurs and the free market is driving Africa’s economic growth from food production, as business wakes up to opportunities of a rapidly growing food market in Africa, that may be worth more than $1 trillion each year by 2030 to substitute imports with high value food made in Africa.

The report also notes that agriculture will be Africa’s quiet revolution, with a focus on small and medium enterprises and smallholder farmers creating the high productivity jobs and sustainable economic growth that failed to materialise from mineral deposits and increased urbanisation.

“Africa has the latent natural resources, skills, human and land capacity to tip the balance of payments and move from importer to exporter by eating food made in Africa,” said Dr Kalibata.

Apart from Mali, countries that have worked towards self sufficiency in Africa include Ethiopia, Rwanda and Burkina Faso, according the AGRA President.

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