A Nigerian by birth, Dr Babafemi Oyewole is the chief executive officer of the African Agribusiness Alliance based in Accra, Ghana. In this interview with EHIME ALEX, he shares thoughts on some of the mechanisms needed toq ensure Africa leverage agriculture to achieving substantive progress in food security and reducing poverty in the continent.
QUS: Can we meet you?
RESP: My name is Dr Babafemi Oyewole, the CEO of the African Agribusiness Alliance based in Accra, Ghana. I am a Nigerian by birth and a development economist by training with a passion for economic development of Africa and the welfare of Africans. I started out my professional career with a development bank, moved to a commercial bank and later worked with a regional technical cooperation fund and agribusiness organisation. I am currently leading the African Agribusiness Alliance which is based in Accra, Ghana. These professional exposures have given me a very diversified experience which helps me to broaden my views about issues. I studied at Universities in Nigeria and in the U.K as a Chevening Fellow for my PhD in Development Finance and Policy. I also attended professional and executive training programmes at Harvard University, USA and Lagos Business School, Nigeria.
QUE: What is African Agribusiness Alliance’s overarching objective?
RESP: The African Agribusiness Alliance (AAA) was formally registered in Accra, Ghana on 7 April 2017. The vision of the Alliance is “A globally competitive, sustainable and inclusive African Agribusiness” and the mission is “Partnership with key agribusiness value chain stakeholders for the transformation of African agriculture into innovative, productive, profitable, technologically driven and environmentally sustainable business activity through capacity building, trade and investment facilitation, market information, access to finance and policy advocacy”. The strategic objectives of the Alliance are:
• Business development, market information and quality assurance
• Strengthening business associations, farmer groups and cooperatives
• Facilitating trade, investment and access to finance for agribusiness and value chains.
• Capacity building in agribusiness operations and management practices
QUE: What is African Agribusiness Alliance’s Membership Categories strength at present?
RESP: The Alliance’s membership categories are of three types which are core, ordinary and associate members. Core Members are small, medium and large-scale corporate institutions such as agro processing companies, export trading companies, financial institutions, logistics and maritime companies engaged in legal agribusiness activities along the value chain. Only core members have a voting right at general meetings and elections nominate a representative on Board Committees. Ordinary members are agribusiness industry associations, cooperatives and farmers’ organisations. Ordinary members will be entitled to all membership benefits and can vote at general meetings and elections. Associate Members consists of institutions such as consulting firms, research institutions, universities, public and private organizations that are providing support services for the development of the agribusiness industry in Africa. Associate members are entitled to all membership benefits but cannot exercise a voting right at general meetings and elections. We are hoping to strengthen our membership recruitment through the annual Africa Agribusiness Trade and Investment Conference that we are planning to be held in 2020 which will give members special conference fees for participation and exhibition of their products and services. The conference is being planned to take place in either Nairobi, Kenya or Accra, Ghana depending on the support we get from any of the proposed hosting countries.
QUE: Could you give a detailed explanation on the $450 registration fees of Ordinary Members?
RESP: The registration fee is designed to encourage the ordinary members to access the various programmes and services of the Alliance at an affordable cost. The registration fee comes with other membership benefits such as opportunity to join the network of African and international stakeholders who are interested in developing the agribusiness industry in Africa, access to current developments in the industry through newsletters, well research position papers, annual reports and briefings, discounted rate of 25% of participation fees at AAA capacity building, training and networking industry events, opportunity to access market information, business intelligence, technological developments that will improve business operations, opportunity for group participation at national, regional and international conferences and forums on agribusiness industry.
QUS: In recent times, what do you consider as major external obstacle (s) militating against the objectives of African Agribusiness Alliance?
RESP: In actual fact, the establishment of the African Agribusiness Alliance came at a time when national, regional and global attention is shifting to the need to promote the agriculture sector to ensure food security and nutrition given the rapidly expanding world population. With a population of 1.2 billion people, Africa is currently the second most populous continent in the world, superseded only by Asia. According to United Nations projections, Africa’s population could reach 2 billion by 2030 and 2.5 billion by 2050. This means that one in five consumers globally will be African. On the supply side, there is significant untapped potential. Over 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa. Policy makers recognize the huge opportunities these trends present and are making concerted efforts to create and maintain an enabling business environment to attract both local and foreign investors into the agriculture and agribusiness industry. For instance, under its Feed Africa strategy, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is supporting African countries to address both demand and supply side constraints along agricultural value chains through initiatives like the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) and Special Agro-Processing Zones (SAPZs) which are attracting both hard and soft infrastructure and creating value addition to increased agricultural produce. Along with these key initiatives in Africa’s agricultural value chains, the continent is starting to consolidate its wins. A case in point is regional integration, exemplified by the recent ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has the potential to make Africa the largest free trade area in the world. It is estimated that Africa’s agribusiness sector could reach $1 trillion by 2030, so there is certainly cause for optimism which the African Agribusiness Alliance will leverage on to capitalize on for the promotion of agribusiness as a globally competitive, sustainable and inclusive activity.
QUE: What internal challenges are African Agribusiness Alliance faced with, how is it being managed?
RESP: Like any new initiative, the mobilization of financial resources is still a major challenge to the Alliance. Though membership is being mobilized, we are yet to get the number that will enable us to undertake effectively the various programmes and projects we would like to implement. We are managing the challenge by reaching out to international funding organisations. We are also reconstituting our Advisory Board so that we can bring on board regional and international professionals and experts that can use their global networks to mobilise the required financial and technical resources that will enable the Alliance to achieve its vision and mission.
QUE: What is African Agribusiness Alliance most potent campaign strategy in galvanizing membership, and how effective has it worked?
RESP: During the period, the Secretariat of the Alliance has been networking and promoting its activities through its website, conference participation and partnership with similar organisations within and outside Africa. The website was developed as a tool of promoting the activities of the Alliance to national, regional and global stakeholders. Through the website, we have been receiving a lot of inquiries and requests for partnerships from the stakeholders. The interest generated in the Alliance by the stakeholders can be measured by the number of visits to the site since it was launched. As at 31st October 2019, the AAA website recorded 21,483 visitors from 47 countries over the past three years. This is an indication of the interest that stakeholders have shown in the Alliance over the review period. This has been achieved even though we are yet to implement any project during the period. Other strategies we have adopted include presentation of the vision of the Alliance at national, regional and international conferences, partnership with similar institutions and promotion through the social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
QUE: Agriculture in Africa is still largely carried out by subsistence farmers; how does African Agribusiness Alliance intends to alter the status quo in next five year?
RESP: Agriculture in Africa still largely rely on small plots of land for their food and income. Therefore, improving yields, productivity, and incomes for small-holder farmers is vital to achieving substantive progress in food security and reducing poverty. African Agribusiness Alliance (AAA) is initiated to develop innovative solutions that will transform African agriculture from subsistence practices to agribusiness activity that is globally competitive, sustainable and inclusive. This will be achieved through technical assistance and capacity building support to a wide range of stakeholders and market players in the agribusiness sector. It will support private companies, business associations and farmer cooperatives to develop new products and services. Its activities will cover economic crops and cross cutting issues such as input supply, market information system, mechanization, access to finance, and particularly, innovative use of financial technology to enhance access to finance for agribusiness investment in Africa.
QUE: Government policies may be at variance sometimes, however, what policy (ies) do African Agribusiness Alliance propose should be formulated and implemented to aid agriculture development in Africa?
RESP: Policy advocacy is one of the key objectives of the Alliance because of the impact of policy on the industry and by extension on its programmes and services. Policies to build capacity of youths and women, who account for majority of farmers in Africa, are needed to promote the industry. Also, one of the major challenges of agricultural sector in Africa is the fact that the agricultural products are still exported with little or no value addition making them to be vulnerable to international price fluctuations which comes with lower income for the farmers. Government should design policies that encourage local processing of agricultural products for both domestic and export markets. Quality assurance is another area where there is need for policy support to the agricultural sector because of high quality standards required for competitiveness in the international market. There is the need to train quality professionals and establish quality testing centres that will undertake quality control for compliance with best international standards. Lastly, there is the need for government to improve infrastructure which is critical to lowering the cost of production and processing of agricultural products. Absence of enabling infrastructures to support agricultural activities has largely been responsible for the non-competitiveness of African products in the international market.
QUE: What seamless solution do you propose to solve agriculture financing in Africa?
RESP: Financing agriculture in Africa has always been challenging because of the inherent risks involved in the industry and the limited understanding by financial institutions on how they can be effectively mitigated. Apart from this, most of the largely subsistence farmers do not have the requisite financial practices that will enable them to have access to finance. There is therefore, the need for financial institutions to properly understand the various activities along the agribusiness value chain and the profile of risks in the value chain. The current financial literacy and inclusive policies of the government is a welcome one in tackling the problems of subsistence farmers and small-scale agro-processing enterprises to access finance for their operations. To promote access to finance, the African Agribusiness Alliance is implementing a programme termed “Linking Financial Institutions to Agribusiness Value Chain (LFIAVC). The programme is aimed at bringing financial sector professionals together with farmers so as to understand the financial needs along the value chain. It must also be noted that financial technology is increasingly facilitating access to finance by smallholder farmers through mobile money which is well developed in the East African sub-region and which is beginning to gain currency in other regions of the continent. These innovations will no doubt limit the perennial problem of access to finance for agribusiness in Africa.
The African Agribusiness Alliance is committed to becoming a reference regional platform and network for all professionals and experts along the agribusiness value chain in Africa. This is with a view to promoting the development of the industry to take advantage of emerging national, regional and global interest in the agriculture industry for food security and nutrition. To achieve its vision and mission, the Alliance will partner with similar stakeholders in Africa and globally.