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Exclusive interview with NEPAD CEO, Ibrahim Mayaki 1

Brussels – “It is essential to create conditions providing a satisfactory standard of living in African rural areas. To attain this goal there is an obvious need for revenue-generating activities, which means a variety of jobs and activities, although they must be agriculture-based. This can only be achieved with support from the government”.

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki has clear ideas on the conditions for rural development in Africa. In this exclusive interview with (Italy), Addis Fortune (Ethiopia), Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Les Echos du Mali (Mali) and Le Républicain (Niger), the Chief executive of NEPAD explains his vision on this crucial issue.

Over 70 per cent of the population of Africa is involved in agriculture, but this agriculture is subsistence in nature and in recent decades has been failing to meet the people’s food needs in a number of countries, due to regular droughts and the inadequacy of the resources allocated to the sector by the state governments. Because of this, rather than generating jobs, the sector is losing manpower because workers prefer to flee to the ballooning cities to try their luck. Would it be true to say that this phenomenon, aggravated by the land sequestration policies in operation in Arabic and emerging countries today is effectively threatening the future of agriculture in the continent?

Before it is possible to answer this question, some form of diagnosis must be attempted. It is a fact that at the moment the majority of the African population lives in rural areas and their main activity is agriculture. Fact number two is the rapid growth of the cities, now growing to such a size and rapidly that some commentators speak of the ruralisation of the cities. In the third place is the basic reason why people are leaving the land: its inability to hold onto the young, the majority of the rural population. Faced with these three phenomena it is essential to create conditions providing a satisfactory standard of living for country people.

To attain this goal there is an obvious need for revenue-generating activities, which means a variety of jobs and activities, although they must be agriculture-based. This can only be achieved with support from the government. This is why, in the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), targeting support for producers is absolutely crucial. We may dream about building country roads so that smallholders can reach markets or creating systems to store harvests, but the first step is to upgrade the role of the producers. This means easier access to fertiliser and seed, plus better training so that the farmers can consolidate their holdings. In other words, peasants must be transformed into entrepreneurs. And if you will excuse me repeating myself, this calls for help from the government.

African smallholders have never been so hard pressed by poverty, unable as they are to enjoy the benefits of agricultural research, to comfortably feed themselves and sell the produce of their backbreaking work. What is NEPAD doing to “help African farmers to take their place in history”?

This statement by Sarkozy may be very well known, but it is mistaken in the context of African agriculture for one simple reason: with all their limited means, limited technology, and limited access to newcomers, the farmers you’re talking about here are still the farmers who have fed Africa for the past fifty or sixty years! The plain fact is that they have already taken their place in history, because it is their efforts which have made it possible for African cities to keep eating. In the framework of the CAADP, we have been working in a range of ways which we hope will strengthen the farmer’s productive capacity. The link between agricultural research and the use of the products of this research remains a crucial challenge for the farmer.

At CAADP, we have a section dealing with research which focuses on developing policies supporting national agricultural plans, the aim being to ensure that the smallholder’s access to the products of research is as simple as possible. A second dimension also exists dealing with supervisory services in rural zones. As the structural adjustment process has developed, these services have been dismantled, so the job today is to rebuild them in a suitable fashion so that they support the link between research and the smallholders’ needs. Finally, the CAADP expects to be able to support training schemes for small African farmers, an aspect which has been completely neglected in recent decades. They must be trained in management systems, the use of technologies, and they must be shown how to become real entrepreneurs.

There seems to be a shift, leading to a possible increase in financing, in international financial institutions such as IMF and World Bank for supporting agricultural and rural development projects since the rise in food prices of 2008. What do you think would be the impact of such a shift on the policy priorities of regional organizations such as NEPAD?

For a long time such international institutions as the IMF and the World Bank failed to see agriculture as a priority and since the public policy systems in our nations depended on the directions dictated by these funding bodies, our governments also failed to see agriculture as a political priority. A number of specific events were necessary, including hunger riots, to place this subject at the political forefront, to make it clear that the best way to reduce poverty and to create wealth was to develop the agricultural sector.

As I mentioned before, the majority of the population lives in the rural zones and agriculture is the major source of income. Leaving aside countries such as Niger or Mali, every year sees 250,000 young people joining the labour market, youngsters who are obliged to find an economic sector capable of making use of them. In most of our countries a cap has been set on civil service recruitment, so they are taking on no fresh staff; and the level of industrialisation in our countries is not high enough to cope with the employment demand from the young. This means that the sector with the potential to absorb them would be an agricultural sector with prospects of diversification.

Add the destabilising effects of hunger riots to those of youth unemployment, and it becomes immediately clear why all the candidates in presidential elections in recent years have declared agriculture to be a political priority and why the international institutions have taken up a position which NEPAD, excuse my repeating it, had held since 2003! The part played by NEPAD in boosting the value of this sector has been vital. It was NEPAD which defined the CAADP, and it was NEPAD which applied pressure to have the CAADP accepted as the strategic continent-wide framework for agricultural development and which has become an instrument of the African Union. Our current role is to work to ensure that its implementation is as efficient and effective as possible. We have a multi-donor trust fund available to us, supplied by the World Bank, and other instruments also exist for the purpose of mobilising resources and involving the private sector.

Download here the full interview

Interview coordinated by Joshua Massarenti (, in collaboration with Addis Fortune (Ethiopia), Sud Quotidien (Senegal), Les Echos du Mali (Mali) and Le Républicain (Niger).

The interview has been realised with the support of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

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