Multitalent - sociologist, historian, economist and agronomist - Dr. Niek Koning, emeritus assistant professor of Agricultural Economy and History from Wageningen University opened the discussion by sharing his perspective on the causes of underdevelopment in Africa. “From the international-comparative farm policy analysis perspective, Africa today looks like Asia in the colonial era, when the Asian population was booming, but economic growth did not keep pace”, Koning started out building on a text he co-authored with demographer Dr. Leo van Wissen.

Africa versus Asia
From his perspective, land in Africa has become more scarce over time. Therefore, viable development requires sustainable intensification of land use through modern inputs, like improved seeds and the use of fertilizers. However, supplying modern inputs and marketing crops is not enough. It requires infrastructure. Africa’s road systems are significantly less developed than their counterparts in South and East Asia, because of historically low population densities in Africa. The continent in general is in a laggard position. As Koning puts it: ”Without massive investment in rural infrastructure, well-organized input supply, stable markets and modern credit, sustainable intensification by using modern inputs is simply not feasible for farmers – especially at some distance from the cities”. In order to prepare for a more stable and prosperous Africa, Koning calls for action. Developmental policies need to be introduced, in particular for agriculture. Next to economic policies, educational and public health policies can play a role.

It is up to farm leaders, entrepreneurs and responsible citizens in Africa to pressure their governments to seize the opportunity
Population growth and adequate family policies
Dr. Leo van Wissen, professor of Demography at Groningen University in the Netherlands, agrees that educational policies are crucially important. From a demographic perspective, African countries with the lowest population growth are best off in terms of economic development. The number of children per woman is falling in most regions, which opens the opportunity for a demographic dividend. This demographic dividend Leo describes as: “a demographic windfall effect as a result of the increase in size of the adult population relative to other ages, that allows a rapid growth of the labour force, in tandem with a reduced burden of youth dependency”. This may result in a one-time boost in economic development.

However, to achieve this, the number of children per woman must drop fast enough. At the same time, there should be sufficient job opportunities for people entering the labour market.

In many African countries the fertility rates have dropped slowly. The underdeveloped agricultural sector is unable to absorb the large number of young people seeking jobs. This has resulted in large rural-to-urban migration flows, driven by the lack of opportunities in the rural areas. Because of this, Van Wissen calls for the development of adequate family policies that may help to break the vicious circle of underdevelopment and population pressure. Policies should aim at closing the gap between desired family size and its realization. “Improving sexual and reproductive rights for women, the availability of contraceptives, and adequate education and health facilities are key aspects of such policies”, he says. Van Wissen says most African countries currently have such policies in place, but only pay lip-service to their implementation.

Education is key, but not the only one
“I believe the more educated an African girl is, the more she tends to have fewer kids”, responds Hugue Nkoutchou, founder of the Public Policy in Africa Initiative, to Van Wissen's perspective. Hugue addresses the importance of education for women. He continues: “The best way to control the African population, is not to go the Chinese way, to have this one kid policy, but to create an environment where more and more women can go to school. Especially in the Muslim parts of our countries this is important”. Here the question for Africa is, how can we send all those girls to school? In many cases it is clear what to do, but the real question is how to do it. There is a lack of resources and Africa is still too dependent on donors like the World Bank to finance policies.

Money is needed to send girls to school. In addition, loans should be provided for students that have recently graduated. According to Dr. Nkoutchou, there is a lot of financial potential in agriculture, Africa's biggest money maker, but young entrepreneurs who are willing to start a business, lack access to loans to kick it off.

Gender inequality and equality from a woman’s perspective
Babatunde Olarewaju, agricultural consultant at Futex, continues the discussion: “The key thing to this topic is to understand, why is there unpaid labour, and who doesn't get paid ?” He argues that gender inequality is one of the main reasons for this unpaid labour. Most of the productive work, the work that contributes to the financial economy, is done by men. But women, who do most of the community work and reproductive work, are not taken into account in the GDP. Their community work and reproductive work are not valued and aren't even perceived as unpaid labour. But without women, the economy wouldn't work. “Women and men should both have the same opportunities to control resources", says Olarewaju, "they should have their own choices." A change of mindset is required and women should be perceived differently by society. Assuring women have more time for themselves and can contribute to the economic system would empower them.

Edobong Akpabio, executive member of the African Farmers Stories Initiative and business owner in agricultural business, and Victoria Madedor, also part of the African Farmers Stories, joined the conversation. Edobong agrees with Babatunde that women should be perceived differently. She adds that a belief and change in mindset is also required by the women themselves. In her work, Edobong sees women that are highly educated, but still have low self-esteem. Letting women believe in themselves and see the way they contribute to local development and community development is important and currently often not recognised. Parenting must do the job, whereby parents make their children believe in themselves.

Victoria Madedor adds to this that society should be more inclusive. Moreover, attention should be given how much both women and men contribute, regardless of gender: “We should start looking how humans in the supply chain are empowering the entire value chain, rather than focussing on gender itself”.

For me, the solutions should come from within Africa
Let’s start seeing it the African way
Dr. Ikechi Agbugba from Rivers State University, points out that in this discussion we should not forget that the African continent is not homogeneous. Developmental issues differ amongst regions. Every African country is different, has different issues and should follow different approaches. Even within countries there is a big difference between regions. However, future development should be all about inclusiveness. Besides, there is a call for action: we need to get together and talk in order to get started and develop.

“For me, the solutions should come from within Africa”, Edobong adds to this. “We have worked with solutions provided by people from outside Africa, but if you look at Africa right now, we still do not have a true solution”. She calls for solutions that are local and understand the local conditions in order to be sustainable.

There seems to be a challenge between the what and the how
Inclusiveness for sustainable development
Resulting from this discussion, there is a call for action. Inclusiveness and equality are important elements in advancing African development. The diverse group of stakeholders should come together and approach development from an African perspective. As Babatunde Olarewaju said: “The problems of Africa can only be solved using African methods”. At the same time, all panelists agreed on the policies outlined in More people, slow growth by Niek Koning and Leo van Wissen. There seems to be a challenge between the what and the how.

Trying to articulate in dialogue what is really at stake while doing away with the taboo's, is exactly what G.A.P.P.A.P. is about: connecting people and defining practical agricultural development and policies from an African Perspective.

Interested? Please don't be shy and join our next G.A.P.P.A.P. webinar on Thursday 29 July, where the topic inclusiveness will be discussed further. You can register here already. That edition will be moderated by Nancy Illoh-Nnaji.