The Malabo race that everyone can win!

A flame to ignite agriculture reform, nutrition and food security in Africa: will it be nurtured or snuffed out through irrelevance?

Is there a rumbling of excitement in Africa about ending hunger and achieving agricultural development? It certainly feels to me that something positive is happening.

Heads of State and Governments in Africa recently hailed the “Inaugural Biennial Report on the Implementation of the Malabo Declaration” at January’s African Union Summit as an ‘historic achievement’ and a ‘spark to ignite the flame of agricultural reform in Africa’. This was a pleasing moment for Wasafiri, both because we are committed to work on African agriculture, and because we took a key role in co-designing the Mutual Accountability Framework that culminated in this moment. So, what happened? And what are the implications for the future?

At the Summit, leaders welcomed the performance review of African countries in the report produced by the African Union Commission, derived from information submitted via Governments in 47 countries (and validated by multi-stakeholder processes and Regional Economic Communities). It all started with an African Union commitment in Malabo in 2014 to build mutual accountability for progress to end hunger by 2025. While the report and data processes were far from perfect in technical terms, it is an exciting start, and there is much to build on. Some development partners are already talking about investing further to strengthen agricultural data systems.

The breadth of ambition is impressive. Included in the 43 indicators that make up each country’s report are performance measures for nutrition, food security, social protection, and agriculture. Taken together at continental level, this is arguably the broadest and best organised review by heads of government of poverty reduction performance measures that is 100% African owned and led. It leaves me wondering – does the wider agriculture community know about this? Could the nutrition community engage more? Does the social protection community realise the potential? I would guess not at this point. And why doesn’t this have more profile generally in the African and western media? Raising the profile of the Biennial Review process seems important for all stakeholders.

And it isn’t a one-off. The Biennial Review process mean each report offers the potential for accountability on performance every two years up to 2025, by when African leaders are committed to the ambition of ending hunger on the continent while transforming agriculture and poverty for the better.

At the AU Summit event, good performers were rewarded. President Kagame received an award as Rwanda achieved the top performance rating. Recognition was provided to 20 countries that are considered on track to meet the Malabo targets. Nonetheless, a good deal of focus should be on the many countries that are off-track. Work is also needed to ensure that lessons from similar peer accountability instruments are incorporated to maximise the effect. Encouragingly, some African leaders called for an annual review of performance perhaps mirroring the set of up of the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance. Certainly, regular engagement by a group of heads of state to keep the issues on the table would be very welcome.

Not everything went according to plan. A report covering wide territory and broad sets of indicators needs to be digestible. A scorecard to summarise the outcomes to allow interpretation by Heads of State, promoted by the Ethiopian Prime Minister in UNGA 2017 and Davos 2018, was not released as it didn’t meet relevant protocols. This seems a missed opportunity and there is hope it’ll be released during 2018 and be bound to future reports.

What to the future? The continent is already abuzz with new national agriculture strategies for agriculture (National Agricultural Investment Plans aka NAIPs), and there should be real potential for deeper reflection on policy and priorities, and mutual accountability mechanisms at the national level. A second generation of agribusiness partnerships is starting in countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Senegal that can put flesh to the bones of these plans. Development Partners have a role to ensure that this performance review is capitalised on at national level for advancing priorities on policy, partnerships and investments. Prospective investments in agricultural information systems are also important.

Only rarely do political stars align to create genuine African owned continent-wide efforts to achieve progress on human and economic development.  We seem to have one here. Though we know that progress can only be achieved in practical terms within countries. Over the next few months, one question, above all, could be on the mind of stakeholders with responsibility for reducing poverty, food and nutrition insecurity, and agricultural performance: What can I do to help deepen accountability for performance at national level? Lots of individual actions by stakeholders can amplify the impact of this report so it and its successors can make a difference growing wealth and ending hunger for hundreds of millions of Africans.