“Africa’s presence at Milan’s Expo 2015 is its most important to date. And it isn’t just a matter of numbers; the real difference is the quality of its presence. All African countries, in fact, have their own national pavilion, either as a separate entity or included in one of the clusters”, says Filippo Ciantia, manager of the thematic clusters project for Expo Milano 2015, highlighting the importance of Africa’s participation at this edition of the world’s fair.
Nearly one-third of all countries taking part in Expo are from Africa, with many of them having their own self-built pavilions, such as Angola, Nigeria and Morocco or within what Expo has defined as “thematic clusters”, such as rice, coffee and cocoa, arid zones, cereals and tubers and islands, sea and food. Thanks to this cluster format, the countries can all participate and bring to the table their specific diversity and uniqueness, reminding everyone in the process that the African continent is as vast as it is varied.
“There are many contributing factors to this presence”, continues Ciantia. “The first is the important role that Africa has in feeding the planet, a role that can only increase in the future. The second is the considerable amount of research into these matters that is coming out of these African nations, where economic growth has often been matched by an equivalent cultural development. In the fields of both medicine and agriculture, African research centres will be showcasing their innovative contributions for the improvement of the entire globe”.
The importance of Africa’s presence at the Milan Expo should come as no surprise. The continent could very well become the planet’s ‘wheat belt’ in the decades to come. Excluding protected areas and forests, Africa holds more than half of the planet’s cultivable and still undeveloped lands.
This potential is matched by the amount of so far untapped water resources. According to the latest studies, Africa uses 2% of its renewable water resources, compared to the global average of more than 5%. The vastness of its territory and its many different environments and climates make it ideally suited for the production of all kinds of crops.
Thus a number of international governments and multinational corporations have begun investing in and buying land south of the Sahara. Africans too have come to realize that the agribusiness sector could be the bedrock of their development and today, after years of neglect, many view agriculture as the continent’s principal resource.
After being sacrificed on the altar of industrial growth and its thirst for raw materials and finance, agriculture is once again attracting the attention of governments and economic communities, along with development donors.
In a continent where the agriculture and agribusiness sectors respectively contribute one quarter and one-fifth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and provide employment to more than 60% of the workforce (with peaks of 80% in some countries), it clearly makes little sense to talk about real development, inclusive growth or economic improvement without addressing the issues that beset the cardinal sector on which the lives of hundreds of millions of people depend.
Several new social factors linked to the continent’s development are compelling African governments to view the agribusiness sector with renewed interest. With the continuous economic growth that has been recorded for over a decade now, Africa has seen its population top one billion and it will likely reach two billion by 2050. This growth has also led to an expansion of Africa’s middle class, increasingly made up of city dwellers who, thanks to improved economic conditions, are also looking to improve their diets.
In a recent report entitled “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness”, the World Bank projected that, by 2030, African agriculture will be worth $1 trillion (€952bn) in sub- Saharan Africa alone. The urban food market in Africa will quadruple in the upcoming years and by 2030 become a more than $400 billion (nearly €382 billion) industry. These numbers are driving people to invest heavily in agribusiness, food processing, logistics, market infrastructures and distribution networks. The experts have no doubts: Africa’s growing middle class is looking for variety and quality in its diet and the sectors experiencing the most growth are rice, cereals, poultry farming, vegetable oils and horticulture.
In most African countries, agriculture and agribusiness have failed to achieve their competitive potential. In recent decades, Africa’s percentage of global agricultural exports has declined and the continent continues to have the lowest farm yields in the world. This is the result of the dearth of modern techniques and equipment in African agriculture, in everything ranging from seeds and fertilisers to machinery and irrigation systems.
A scenario that with the right policies, public and private investment and partnerships among corporations and governments can most certainly be turned around.