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Multilateralism – The way forward for African agriculture

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Interview Josefa Sacko

Secretary general for the Inter-African Coffee Organization (IACO) for 13 years, Josefa Sacko was elected as the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture in January 2017.

As you take on your new role at the AU, what do you see as the greatest challenges and how do you aim to address them?

We want to transform agriculture but the problem is that we don't invest in the sector. In 2003, in Maputo, AU heads of state created the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) to secure food security and to finance agriculture. Ten years later, the countries that implemented CAADP saw 6% growth in the agriculture sector, but they were very few: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda, among others. They aligned their national agricultural investment plans (NAIPS) with CAADP commitments, invested in productivity, and organised farmers accordingly. In 2014, in Malabo, the heads of state recommitted themselves to support the CAADP principles and added other commitments such as ending hunger and reducing poverty by half by 2025. Now, we have an agricultural transformation scorecard to motivate countries. In 2017, the AU also launched the CAADP Malabo Business Plan, which will be used by heads of states to implement the Malabo Declaration. We are now working with development partners to mobilise resources and start implementing the plan.

How can overcoming significant gender inequalities in agriculture regarding access to land, inputs, markets and incomes empower women to benefit from agriculture and food security in Africa?

If you look at Africa as a whole, women represent 70-80% of the labour force and yet they are discriminated against because they don't have access to land. In October 2017, the AU Commission launched the African Land Policy Centre, and land access for women and youth will be a priority. Our member states should put access to land in their NAIPs. Each country has got its own land tenure system but if a government gives a woman a 10-year concession, she will have a land property document which could serve as collateral if she wanted access to funding. I'm currently working with the AU Directorate of Women, Gender and Development to see how this strategy can be included in the NAIPs.

How do you feel women in agribusiness could be better supported?

The issue of land or involvement of women in agriculture has to be looked at as a business. We should try to empower women and make them organise themselves into small and medium enterprises. Women and youth need support from the government, private sector and civil society. I'm going to meet with non-state organisations of women in order to see how we can work together and, above all, how we can get the voice of vulnerable women heard by our heads of state.

We should not look at women as victims but as agents for development. When I was secretary general of the IACO, there was a strong women’s association in the coffee sector in Yaoundé (Cameroon) who organised themselves well. They were even able to elect one of the women farmers as a legislator in parliament. Africa has a problem seeing women at this level of decision-making and bringing their concerns. There is a saying in my country: “If you are not at the table, you don't eat”. You have to choose women with knowledge so that they can defend the interest of their communities and address key issues at parliament. This is a lesson that we need to reinforce and multiply in other countries to empower women.

Where are the greatest opportunities to make a real difference in the next few years at the policy level?

Food security and nutrition have made good progress in spite of climate change variability. We need to build smart agriculture in order to address the issue of climate change. We need to work on initiatives like the Great Green Wall of The Sahel to stop desertification. We need to adapt ourselves to desertification, drought, floods, etc. otherwise, it's really going to affect our progress in terms of food security and nutrition. Smart agriculture is coming mostly from Eastern African countries but the AU is also about to launch a smart agriculture initiative in Mozambique.

Today, Africa is importing more food than it exports. How can this pattern be reversed and Africa’s agriculture sector transformed to be competitive on the global stage?

First, we need to organise ourselves and boost our income through commodities, through agricultural trade. Secondly, you have to secure national food security and then try to encourage continental trade, South-South trade. We want to encourage exports of our food. We don't want to depend on raw material anymore; the more you increase your value chain, the more you get value.

Africa's agriculture sector can be competitive on the global stage if we invest. We need to invest public expenditure in agriculture, in research, development and innovation in order to improve productivity. We need to invest in human capital, to do proper land reform, to make land accessible to women, youth, and foreign investors. Above all, we have to share experiences so that we get the transformation that we want. You cannot do things if you are isolated. We need to integrate our efforts to work together; multilateralism is the way forward.