Agriculture is the proven path to prosperity. No region of the world has developed a diverse, modern economy without first establishing a successful foundation in agriculture. This is especially true for Africa today where close to 70% of the population is involved in agriculture as smallholder farmers working on parcels of land that are, on average, less than 2 hectares. As such, agriculture is the Africa’s surest bet for growing inclusive economies and creating decent jobs mainly for the youth.

Most indications are that we are ready for take-off. The prospects for African agriculture look favorable, despite the recent slowing in economic growth across much of the continent mainly due to the sharp drop in the global prices of oil and minerals. These could be a blessing for the sector as it gets prioritized. The African food market continues to grow with World Bank estimates showing that it will be worth US$1 trillion by 2030 up from the current US$300 billion. Demand for food is also projected to at least double by 2050. These trends, combined with the continent’s food import bill, estimated at a staggering US$30–50 billion, indicate that an opportunity exists for smallholder farmers—Africa’s largest enterpreneurs by numbers—who already produce 80% of the food we eat to finally transition their enterprises into thriving businesses.

The process by which an agri-food system transforms over time from being subsistence-oriented and farm-centered into one that is more commercialized, productive, and off-farm-centered is starting to take place in Africa. Food systems across the continent are responding to rapid urbanization, rising incomes and changing diets. Agricultural value chains are becoming more urbanized and consumer driven, with a premium on quality and food safety. These dynamics are creating many new growth opportunities within Africa’s food system. Output and employment in agriculture continue to grow, and a great deal of value addition and employment is being created along value chains in the form of agricultural trade, farm servicing, agroprocessing, urban retailing and food services. Today, 40–70% of the food costs to urban Africans are incurred in the post-farm gate segments of the supply chain.

However, much more remains to be done to sustain these gains and truly drive the agricultural transformation needed for Africa’s development, and to ensure a better life for all of its people as laid out in the Malabo Declaration, in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in Africa’s Agenda 2063.

Additionally, and more crucially, these changes need to be beneficial to Africa’s vast army of smallholder farmers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating in the agri-food system. Given the myriad constraints they face, and the more stringent requirements of urbanized markets, there is a danger that many will be left out of this impending economic boom while larger commercial farms and large agribusinesses reap most of the benefits.

These trends and worries are not new, and have been highlighted in previous Africa Agriculture Status Reports. This fifth edition of the report takes a business approach to the problem. Recognizing that Africa has experienced significant economic changes over the past decade, the Report calls for an agricultural transformation that is more focused on a market driven, business agenda that encompasses the entire food system, not just agricultural production. It argues for an inclusive transformation based on promoting small farms and SMEs on a commercial basis with the potential to create many more productive jobs, reduce poverty, improve nutrition outcomes, and make farming and value chains more resilient to shocks from climate change, and more attractive to young workers.

The Report acknowledges that not all of Africa’s smallholders will succeed in farming on a commercial basis. Many are already diversifying into non-agricultural activities that are more lucrative than farming, while others are trapped in subsistence farming under conditions that make it difficult to compete in markets. The business agenda covered in the Report calls for segmenting smallholders into those with prospects and capabilities to transition to commercial farming who need business assistance, and those who need different types of support in transitioning out of farming if resources are not to be wasted, or farm households misled into unsustainable livelihood strategies.7 AFRICA AGRICULTURE STATUS REPORT 2017It also acknowledges that the private sector can and should take the lead in transforming the food system. But an inclusive transformation requires that governments support and guide the transformation. In addition to providing the basics, such as a stable and enabling economic and policy environment, adequate rural infrastructure and agricultural research and development (R&D), governments must also work with the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in undertaking targeted interventions to help commercialize many more smallholders, and assist the development of SMEs along value chains.

The Report has maintained the original objective of producing an annual series that provides an in-depth and comprehensive analysis of emerging issues and challenges being faced by Africa’s smallholder farmers. It allows experts in African agriculture to share knowledge and offer practical and evidence-based recommendations that will steer Africa towards a path to prosperity through agriculture. The publication has also maintained its two section format: a detailed narrative that addresses various facets of the publication’s theme, and a data section that presents country-level agriculture and economic growth data which reveal important trends in African agricultural development.


Dr. Agnes Kalibata