Energy, Agric and Jobs – A vicious cycle

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On my way to Lusaka, I had an interesting conversation with two Nigerians whiles we transited through Addis Ababa. It was a toned down version of the jollof battles Nigerians and Ghanaians usually engage in whenever they meet. We talked about tomatoes, and how the internet was flooded with tweets and posts about tomatoes and its scarcity in Nigeria.  After dodging my questions the Lagos boy admitted his country was behind in its tomato supply. Some states have gone ahead to declare “tomato emergency“. Interestingly, I had had a similar conversation a week earlier in Ghana about plantains. Plantains have become so scarce in Ghana, its price had shot up by some 20% if not more.

Should we really be experiencing such challenges? With the almost perfect climate and vast arable land on the continent, why do parts of Africa go hungry or even experience many weeks of food scarcity? Agriculture seems to be a topic we talk about almost all the time. A good number of grants pumped into the continents financial pipeline is channeled towards Agric. Or are we focusing our efforts and aid money in the wrong areas?

This week in Lusaka, the African Development Bank will engage Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to throw some more light on three out of five of its topics areas. Agriculture, jobs and energy. These three areas interestingly are connected with very tight ropes. One is bound to wobble if the other faces any challenges.

Let me highlight my point. In Ghana, where I come from, more than 50% of its workforce is in Agriculture, either as farmers, extension officers, or in other indirect ways such as transporting harvested food to urban areas. I want to believe the trend is similar for other African countries which have a demography similar to Ghana’s. If this sector goes down on its knees, it basically means we are denying all these players their living wages. Not only that, but the quantity of food supplied to the veins of the continent is also affected in such situations.

Energy plays a critical role in ensuring that Agric performs well and that jobs are not lost. Whenever the price of crude goes up, the cost of accessing farming regions goes up too and with it the cost of units of food in super markets. Energy is needed to power the warehouses and silos needed to store our food supply. This ensures the continent feeds itself throughout the year, even during unfavorable conditions. But where is the energy?

Civil Society members across Africa are often the beneficiaries of development assistance— households, consumers, workers, teachers, students, travelers whose lives our development efforts are designed to improve. African Development over the years has increased its levels of engagement with such groups with the hope of reaching the grassroots of affected trees. By combining the bank’s technical expertise with the wide reach of these CSOs, the banks hopes to better understand this cycle and prepare its agents with a plan that will enable agric, jobs and energy better serve the continent. This may perhaps turn out to be one of the most difficult but interesting discussions CSOs and the AfDB will be faced with. Can civil societies indeed bring some sanity into solving the challenges posed by the cyclical dependency? Chip in your thought or follow the conversation via the hashtag #CSOForumLusaka.

Edward Amartey-Tagoe is a co-founder of Nandimobile, a technology company located in Accra which focuses on building software with which enterprises can better manage its customer support ad marketing processes.

He is also a passionate blogger and a member of BloggingGhana (BloGh), an organised group of bloggers in the Ghana. He believes Africa is a virgin territory and thus must be tapped into.

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