A Champion for African agriculture – To be or not to be?

What does being a champion for African agriculture mean? This is a key question for those of us heading to Africa’s premier annual forum for agriculture, the Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which is due to take place in Rwanda from the 5th September hosted by President Kagame.

The conference emphasis is on leadership, measurement, and agricultural growth or as the AGRF puts it: Lead. Measure. Grow

Africa has a new continent-wide tool to measure performance of the agriculture sector and efforts to end hunger, and the buck stops with Africa’s Heads of State and Governments, (see an earlier blog here) . All countries in Africa have a scorecard through this African Union Biennial Review performance process. Most of the true value will come in focusing at national level while also bolstering competition for good performance at regional and continental levels.  One can argue that a champion for African agriculture should be focused on drawing attention to positive results, while seeking lessons both from efforts that work and those that don’t work.

Because not enough people know about the Biennial Review performance tool, and the potential impact it can deliver if it achieves widespread recognition and application in policy and programming, two pressing questions are: who will champion a new performance culture for the agriculture sector? And what will a champion do?

The questions are pressing because the AGRF organisers and supporting development partners are actively considering whether and how best to recruit champions at the event and in the months that follow.

If we take the first question – who will champion a new performance culture for the agriculture sector – the ideal is that a small regionally representative cabal of Heads of State and Governments would create a high-level political gathering to hold ‘the toes’ (results) of the sector ‘to the fire’ (accountability), offering leadership through open and transparent discussion of results in different fora, engaging media, parliamentarians, farmers groups and businesses and others to galvanise future progress. If Heads of State were to take a pronounced focus, their ministers, notably on agriculture and food security would take even greater care to secure positive performance. That said, ministers should drive their own agenda as champions predominantly in their own country, and perhaps collectively through Africa’s inter-ministerial gatherings at continental and regional levels.

Outside of government, heads of international organisations, UN agencies, ex-presidents offer an important complementary set of champions to evolve the enabling environment in favour of performance monitoring and appraisal. Donors and foundations can more easily self-assess their strategies and programme approaches to integrate African countries’ performance into their support. There could be a VIP lunch at the AGRF that might help make this happen. If we got all of this right – it could set a precedent for leadership on agriculture and ending hunger in Africa that is globally significant.

So to the second question – what might a champion do? It is relatively easy to have a pleasing high profile moment inaugurating champions, without them knowing quite what to do next in practice.

It is most important that Heads of State, Ministers and leaders of organisations in a country put in place a clear performance scorecard that stakeholders subscribe to, ideally based upon the Biennial Review indicators. Champions should convene national or regional meetings with the key stakeholders, encouraging a system-wide and enduring effort to collaborate in favour of performance. They can write op-eds, they can set an expectation for higher performance based on an evidence driven approach, and they can hold senior leaders and politicians to account – President Kagame is a role model here.

As we approach the AGRF I’m excited, because there are many potential champions capable of working in new ways, but I’m also a bit nervous about whether they will be armed properly with what they need to do the job properly. Moving forward some kind of platform may be required to ensure the different champions can pull in broadly the same direction across multiple organisations.  Time will tell!