Oumar Seydi is International Finance Corporation (IFC) Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa. Previously he served as IFC’s Director of Human Resources, and Regional Manager for Central Africa. He joined IFC in 1997 as an Investment Officer initially focused on oil, gas, mining and chemicals, and later agribusiness. Before that, he was a manager at Ernst & Young in New York. He also spent five years at the United States Agency for International Development. Cheikh Oumar holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Agriculture accounts for one third of the continent’s economic activities, generating 60% of jobs, but Africa continues to import most of its food. How can this trend be reversed?
Oumar Seydi: Before being able to process on the spot, you have to increase the productivity of the sector because yields are still too low. Farmers have to use the right fertilisers, seeds must be carefully selected and soil properties must be strengthened by an adequate irrigation system instead of relying exclusively on rainfall. It’s also essential to employ advanced techniques, still not used enough in Africa, based on precision farming, to define the specific treatment to be applied to each soil and each grain. This in turn requires adapted technologies (drones and satellites, for example) to identify diseases that can destroy our crops and treat them systematically.
Infrastructure is another vital element. A large part of the agricultural production cannot be sold because it is lost or damaged due to the roads and storage facilities that are almost non-existent or obsolete.
How do we reduce the cost of inputs, which is still too high?
Governments are now finding themselves in a situation where they are forced to subsidise inputs in order to provide them at an affordable price to farmers. There is a great disparity between our means and those of certain other countries that have more control over this value chain and sometimes receive indirect subsidies. Reversing this trend requires very large amounts of money being invested and this has to be done by locally producing inputs, such as fertiliser. That’s why we funded companies like Dangote. Africa must, for example, take advantage of its substantial phosphate deposits to develop local agriculture. Our governments have limited resources that they really need to allocate to areas such as social sectors, which are less attractive to the private sector. Many private investments have been made in African agriculture in recent years.
How can the sector become competitive on a global scale?
African poultry, for example, is subject to competition throughout its value chain from large South American production chains. And a large part of the cost of this poultry is related to its feed. We have to study each value chain to find the competitive advantages. We also have to take into account the legislation of the countries to which one wishes to export or where one wants to produce. There are sectors where we have certain advantages, such as climate and good logistics for exporting to Europe.
A good example of this is the horticulture sector in Kenya and Ethiopia, where we have successfully invested in units like Afriflora and VegPro. In Madagascar, the cost of livestock feed today allows us to envisage the creation of a whole new industry based on the setting of standards that could boost the export of quality meat. And Mali could better export its mangoes and even its shea butter, which has well-established and proven pharmaceutical markets.
Interviewed by Rémy Darras.
This article appeared in Jeune Afrique n ° 2984 dated March 18 to 24, 2018.