For agriculture to advance in emerging economies, it is crucial to get the private sector involved, high-level officials from several such countries agreed at a Tel Aviv conference on Tuesday.
“What we are realizing today is that as much as we want to expand and keep investing in a number of areas – irrigation, its mechanization, its value chain and development in general – we need to look a little back and see if we can sustain these investments we have made,” said Tony Nsanganira, Rwanda’s minister of state in charge of agriculture.
Nsanganira was addressing participants in a panel discussion led by Israeli irrigation firm Netafim about the state of agriculture in emerging countries, on the first day of the Agritech International Agricultural Exhibition and Conference at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
The enlistment of the private sector to create more efficient and productive work schemes is the key to maximizing the yield of both existing and future government investments, said Nsanganira, adding that Rwanda was “encouraging the private sector to come on board.”
Organized by the Israeli Agriculture Research Organization’s Volcani Center, as well as Kenes Exhibitions and other government and corporate partners, the 19th Agritech event attracted more than 35,000 guests, including 8,000 delegations from 117 countries.
“We have a big food crisis today, and it will become more and more severe in the future,” Netafim CEO Ran Maidan told The Jerusalem Post following the panel session. “Especially in places like Africa, India and China, it’s more severe.”
Such emerging economies, he continued, are striving to “achieve more productivity for the farmer,” but do not always know how to do it – a gap that the private sector elements, like his own corporation, are able to bridge, he said.
“The private sector works faster, is more able to achieve results and is more creative in finding solutions,” Maidan added – though he stressed that the private sector and government regulators could not function without one another.
Nigerian Federal Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Sonny S. T. Echono said that for the past few years, his country had been implementing a “robust agriculture agenda,” focusing on a paradigm shift to business that promotes greater efficiency, higher yields and better-quality seeds.
The West African country has launched a system called Stable Crop Processing Zones, where the government provides the infrastructure for the cultivation of certain crops, Echono explained.
“Our major problem in industrialization in Nigeria is infrastructure,” added Amos Afowowe – an agricultural engineer for the Nigerian ministry – in the Nigerian booth at the larger exhibition outside the conference.
Infrastructure, he explained, is “capital intensive” and thereby demands private sector investment.
Alongside the United States and many other countries, Nigeria sees Israeli firms as potential investors, as well as a place that enables farmers “to see how things are done,” Afowowe said.
In the southern African country of Zambia, natural resource supplies are abundant, “and yet we are a country that is not capable of feeding itself,” Agriculture and Livestock Minister Given Lubinda said during the panel discussion.
Lubinda explained that his country suffered from low productivity and had limited capital to invest in highly productive agriculture.
“Even if we have so much water and great potential for irrigation, all of our farmers don’t have the money to invest in irrigation,” he said.
In addition, small-scale farmers cannot invest in harvest technologies, so the country endures “huge post-harvest losses” and must consume crops within their short shelf-life – a situation that Lubinda described as “untenable.” The Zambian government is therefore establishing designated agricultural blocks scattered around the country, and is encouraging the private sector to invest in 10 percent of these blocked areas as a co-venture, he said.
Looking over to Maidan, Lubinda asked that Netafim “follow him to Zambia.”
Rwanda is facing similar challenges, Nsanganira said. In addition, after the 1994 genocide that tore apart the country, Rwanda needed to restructure its entire farming system, which has included a shift from subsistence agriculture to productive agriculture, he explained.
“It’s really high time for the continent of Africa in general, but also for other continents, to take seriously this matter of efficiently managing our resources,” he said.
Like Lubinda, Nsanganira expressed Rwanda’s desire to collaborate with Netafim and other private- sector partners, stressing that collaboration between the public and private arenas, as well as with the individual farmer, was critical to achieving a sustainable environment.
“Our development plan for the next five years in general is going to be private-sector-driven,” Nsanganira told the Post following the panel discussion.
He stressed, however, that such private companies “will not be starting from scratch,” as the Rwandan government has already made ample investments in irrigation, seeds, infrastructure and the mechanization of all of these tools. While the East African country has made these investments and brought in professionals to help convey the resultant tools to the farmers, Nsanganira explained, such efforts have not been sufficient.
“We realized they need another push,” he said.
As the Rwandan government continues to provide the professional assistance, the private sector can provide that push and allow for farmers to generate returns on the investments, according to Nsanganira. In addition, he continued, the government is going to be examining investment possibilities with the idea of leveraging the country’s future.
“Time is not on our side – we are trying to have strong partnerships that bring in the private sector,” he said.