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Fix Africa’s competitiveness gaps

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Last week when Macky Sall, the President of Senegal and Chairman of the African Union (AU), met with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Sochi, they discussed many issues in line with Ukraine and Russian war. But what stood out was the looming food crisis resulting from the effect of the war.

While the intention of President Sall may have been good, what the continent needs urgently is a summit to discuss food security and how Africa can sustainably feed her people.

As the home to 60 percent of global arable land and with youthful demography, Africa’s leadership has the potential of exploiting the abundant resources in human and land to create jobs and food security.

In 2019, when the African Union launched the operational phase of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) at a summit in Niger, they created a combined market of more than 1.2 billion people and a GDP of $2.5 trillion. This made Africa to be the largest free trade area in the world.

But what remained was the issue of competitiveness, provisions relating to investment, intellectual property, and e-commerce among others.

Since AfCFTA is not opening African countries to unfair competition, for it to leapfrogging in technology, it is important to adopt the e-commerce/market place that can be used by countries even those that are not well developed in technology.

The suggested summit should address the problem of social fragmentation, the increasing underdevelopment of connections between a society and the grouping of certain members along the imaginary boundaries created by the colonial administrations.

There is a need to create an eco-system where even those living across the border can trade peacefully. But this has not been the case in many African countries.

For example, when the Kenyan Maasai livestock farmers were once arrested in Arusha for grazing, it is not creating the conditions for economic growth and prosperity. The people in both ends of the border are one and the same.

Ukraine, which is being admired for its productivity in agriculture, had some natural advantages in agricultural land stretching 42 million hectares.

Many African countries have these advantages, too. Rwanda, for example, is already willing to invest in largescale production, but lacks the comparative advantage. DRC with all these advantages lacks a culture of farming and competitiveness.

Time has come for AU to work towards improving member States’ competitiveness by enhancing the ability of a country to invest in technology and set aside agricultural land.

Through the advice of the World Bank, virtually all African countries have dealt away with agricultural extension officers. This has hurt productivity.

There is a need to re-introduce the services of extension officers and increase individual firm competitiveness with greater profitability, labour productivity and increased employment as well as improving infrastructure and facilitating cross-border trade.

In addition, skill enhancement and re-skilling is critical to enhancing food security. Further, the need to invest in research to identify local climate-resilient foods that are fast disappearing from Africa’s food chain.

Africa can learn from other countries with similar stories.

In the 1960s, India, which was virtually dependent on US food aid experienced drought in 1965 and 1966. The country took advantage of green revolution movement largely dominated by smallscale farmers.

Some of the key elements then were land consolidation to improve productivity. Today, it is among the world’s top producers of cereals. From her successes in agriculture, the country is industrialising.

Land consolidation in Kenya is overdue. The country is dependent on grain from Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Mexico because much of the country’s production is from subsistence farming.