No. 11: Africa’s Agricultural Potential – What’s the Cost?

At what cost will Africa realize the economic potential of its agricultural industry? According to McKinsey & Company, about 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is on the African continent. A few months ago, NPR did a piece on how Brazil has leveraged science to establish the country as a breadbasket. While listening to the piece, I thought about the model Brazil presents for African countries. Initially excited, I then thought about the potential costs of producing genetically manufactured (GM) foods.

Embrapa, Brazil’s government-run agricultural research institute, has done significant research to find ways for various types of crops to grow in the country since the 1970s. This research has led to enormous economic output. According to the Economist, Brazil drove the value of its crops from $23 billion in 1996 to $108 billion in 2006. Furthermore, the country is only using 12.5 percent of its 400 million hectares of uncultivated arable land. The Economist article qualifies these figures with the caution that Brazil drove agricultural growth systematically, and that growth on the African continent will not come quickly. Brazil spent years improving its soil, in concert with seed development. These developments led to new farming techniques that have enabled farmers to significantly increase their yields.

One can imagine the implications of Brazil’s agricultural growth for the African continent. McKinsey and Company projects that by 2040, African countries can increase the collective value of their agricultural output from $280 billion to $880 billion. To do this, countries will have to bring more land into cultivation, increase crop yields, and replace low-value crops with high-value crops like fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, if African countries are not able to implement these key drivers faster than Brazil has, 2040 will not be the year that the continent realizes $880 billion in agricultural output. The celerity with which African countries have driven the boom of the mobile phone industry makes me hopeful that it will be able to implement agricultural growth at a faster pace.

My tension lies in Brazil being second only to the United States in utilization of GM crops. Proponents of GM foods point to the necessity of these crops in establishing food security and production levels for generations to come. Critics argue against GM crops due to their potential danger to humans, and the threat they pose to other plants. A number of African countries are already producing GM crops, and scientists in Brazil continue to develop new plant technologies and farming techniques. Scientists, farmers, and policy makers are going to have to commit to thoroughly vetting the costs and benefits of employing GM crops in pursuit of a robust agricultural industry on the African continent. The economic potential of agriculture on the continent is quite impressive and will be an obstacle to objective cost-benefit analysis of policy options. Decision makers must champion thorough research and holistic conversations in shaping the premise on which countries drive agricultural development efforts. Without this hard analysis, the realization of Africa’s agricultural potential could come at a significant cost to the continent’s one-billion people.

No. 6: Ebrahim Rasool – South African Ambassador to the US

South African Ambassador to the US, Ebrahim Rasool, gave a great speech to an audience in honor of Helen Suzman, one of the most persistent white supporters of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

Thanks to Global Atlanta for the footage.

No. 5: Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP | The Economist (via Investing In Africa – Mutual Fund)

These GDP growth figures look quite impressive. It would be great to obtain photography that tracks with the release of such figures. Imagine seeing pictures that crystallize African countries’ improvements, small as they may be.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP | The Economist. … Read More

via Investing In Africa – Mutual Fund

No. 4: The World Cup’s Impact on South Africa

I appreciate my sister, Chenae, asking me whether the World Cup will really help South Africa’s economy. My response to her question follows:

I worry about South Africa’s ability to maintain these huge stadiums it has built. They could drain resources. 50,000 people aren’t going to watch professional games on a regular basis. Another concern is that many of the jobs the World Cup has generated are temporary. While these temporary jobs help, South Africa needs a whole lot more permanent jobs to bring it’s unemployment rate down from 25 percent.

There is a lot of upside to the World Cup. South Africa is already Africa’s biggest economy, and the World Cup further bolsters its visibility. Venture capitalists and the like will be encouraged to restart the investment that raised Africa’s economic growth to 6 percent. South Africa could lead the way for renewed investments on the continent.

South Africa needs to be really aggressive about selling itself to foreign investors. It needs to prepare its people to leverage foreign investments in the country. A typical side effect of events like the Olympics and World Cup is a large group of displaced people. South Africa needs to push hard to make these people whole in any way possible: education, job training, etc. This is really important because the country has been experiencing a lot of xenophobia in the past year. A lot of immigrants have died in the past year, due to riots in which native South Africans have released their anger over job competition with immigrants.

I think that if South Africa can leverage the World Cup to attract foreign investment and to engage the lower class — native and immigrant, the country can see steady economic growth, and finally move firmly into classification as a developed country.

No.2: African Heritage…African Destiny

In elementary school, I grew ashamed of the African heritage that sprung from my father’s Ghanaian homeland.  Every day seemed to bring with it a new snide remark from fellow classmates.  Either, I lifted rocks for exercise, had too big of a nose, or was an “African booty scratcher.”  As I absorbed these remarks with smiles and giggles, I came to despise my heritage more each day.  All the while, my father shared story after story of Ghanaian heroes such as Jerry John Rawlings who overthrew two corrupt governments before solidifying Ghana as a democratic state.  Why couldn’t I muster up even a little of Rawlings’s courage to stand up for my own heritage?  Instead, I did everything I could to fit in.  I pulled down my pants as soon as I boarded the school bus.  I tried to pierce my ear.  I incorporated as many curses as possible into my vocabulary.  My nickname during those years embodies my efforts to reverse my heritage.  I went by Emawk–Kwame spelled backwards.

I continued to suppress my heritage throughout middle school, but as a freshman away at boarding school, I finally began to embrace the very culture I had tried so hard to reject.  Surrounded by boys from privileged backgrounds and WASP society, I spent hours in the weight room, on the basketball court, and on the track trying to harness my physical prowess in order to prove I belonged.  Thankfully, my teachers took a sincere interest in my cultural roots, and it was through their eyes that I began to see my own heritage anew.  Conversations with my teachers challenged me to engage my heritage and read about these heroes my father had spoken of during my youth.  Kwame Nkrumah’s passion for uniting the countries of Africa sparked my interest in the African Union and its goal of creating a United States of Africa.  J.J. Rawlings’ pursuit of justice in overthrowing corrupt governments in Ghana led me to investigate corruption levels within his own administrations.

In college, coursework studying African politics, American foreign policy, and African cultural continuum in the United States helped answer some questions and guide me in framing more.  Follow-up on past research confirmed that African émigrés to the United States needed to be more involved in US foreign policy concerning Africa.  Work with African-American elementary school-age students convinced me of the need for a connection between African-American youth and their peers on the African continent.

Now, I find myself in graduate school studying Public Administration as I bring more shape to my ideas regarding African émigré involvement in US foreign policy and connecting African and African-American youth.  My postings will let you in on the development of these ideas.  I will look at a wide range of issues, including the following: private equity investments, incursions by Chinese companies, political elections, governance, US foreign policy, and the development of African and African-American youth.  Feel free to comment on my posts.  I want this to be an interactive process as I plan to learn an incredible amount in this process, and pray that you do as well.