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AFRICA: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Africa's Food Crisis


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Public-Private partnerships are being looked at to curb the famine affecting the Horn of Africa as the looming 7 billion world population figure is increasing pressure to ensure Africa’s agricultural heartland is developed to its full potential. Dr Doyle Baker of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is cautiously optimistic, “Looking further to the future, as costs go up and resources become more and more limited in other regions, Africa can – if the right decisions are made now – become a food basket for the world.”

Dr Baker is convinced that one of the first decisions needed is to rebalance priorities, giving greater attention to building up efficient but inclusive food industries. Baker also argues that the international community and regional leaders need to reinforce dialogue and working relations with agro-enterprise managers and service providers in order to unleash the expertise and resources of the private sector.

This year’s EMRC-UNDP AgriBusiness Forum 2011, entitled ‘Engaging the Private Sector for Africa's Agri-Food Growth’, is bringing the private and public sector together to focus on issues such as the identification of inclusive Agri-Food value chains, boosting international trade, increasing productivity, livestock and finance for agriculture.

Why Public-Private Partnerships can Work

The reality is that most Agri-Food sector activities are initiated by the private sector, when one recognizes that small farmers, traders and processors are private sector actors just like national companies and international corporations. There is no agricultural sector without the private sector and so it is of course impossible for the public sector to ensure sustainability without close collaboration with the private sector, explains Baker. Becoming a global food basket cannot be achieved without the expertise, resources and management capacities of the private sector.

The FAO, since many years an official partner of the AgriBusiness Forum, works closely with farming communities and governments throughout Africa to establish viable policies for the continent’s agricultural sector. There are rapidly growing opportunities in domestic and regional markets, which are stimulating development of post-production enterprises as well as the primary production sector.

Baker highlights a growing policy change towards including the private sector. “In the light of changes in Africa and the goals and visions of African leaders and communities, FAO projects are now providing support all along food chains and starting to give increased attention to post-production enterprises and commercial services.” Numerous programmes are being established and supported by governments to improve dialogue and partnering with the private sector.

The Importance of Public-Private Partnerships

Past attitudes of accepting household self-sufficiency and reliance on local markets are no longer viable. In today’s global climate it is important that farming communities work proactively to ensure that the emerging modern food systems of Africa create equitable opportunities for those small and medium farmers who are ready to take on the challenge of meeting new market requirements. In light of the important potential of this sector, it is critical that stakeholders, financiers, civil society and international experts jointly establish realistic and sustainable procedures. There is also a need to take a step back and understand what may have gone wrong in the past. “The key issue, which we now better understand in FAO, is that the nature of the public–private partnerships relations and dialogue is dramatically different depending on “which private sector”. No one in FAO or other developmental agencies ever questioned collaboration with the “small private sector”. What has started to change in FAO – as well as many other organizations – is understanding that agricultural companies of all sizes can and also are part of the solution to enhancing sustainability,” suggests Baker.

The AgriBusiness Forum 2011 is expecting around 500 participants, bringing together international agricultural and livestock experts, multinationals, farmer and private sector associations, financiers, donor organisations, investors and many more, to discuss strategic policies and establish investment and business partnerships for the Agri-Food sector, officially acknowledged as a pivotal sector for the continent’s growth as they look to promote public-private partnerships.


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