“Africa can feed the planet provided it establishes the structural measures required”
Interview with Charlotte Libog, founder of “Afrique Grenier du Monde” platform
Interview by DBM.
Before going into the heart of the matter, two words on your particularly-singular career …
Actually, I ‘m an e-business PhD holder, graduated from a business school in Paris. I, as you mentioned, started working for Microsoft as project manager assistant and junior project manager for the marketing of solutions for SMEs. And, after two years, I became entrepreneur. But my adventure in agriculture started at Microsoft, thanks to a Cameroonian colleague who owned plantations in his country. I started a few years later through the purchase of agricultural land in central Cameroon. A disastrous experience as I got spoiler, for lack of support. The acquisition of land in Cameroon remained an obstacle course.
From this experience, AGM “Africa Grenier du Monde” was created?
Absolutely! AGM is dedicated to promoting Agribusiness in Africa. When you look at the sector, very quickly you realize that there is a great need for information and awareness to be filled especially with the private sector, which is today essential to meet the challenge of boosting agriculture and agro-business in our countries. But also at the level of our policy-makers, who often find it difficult to establish collaborative synergies required for real progress in the sector and for the promotion of investment throughout the value chain.
Precisely, how do you explain this paradox: Africa has the potential to feed the planet but is struggling to achieve food self-sufficiency?
We remain at this level because very often this theme is unknown to most players, hence the information and awareness are important. Today, when we say agriculture, it not only includes production, which remains a basic link, but it is a matter of stimulating investment throughout the agricultural chain. Today, when we say agriculture, we must not only think about production, marketing and product transformation, and therefore agrobusiness; But also training of the various stakeholders, equipment of the latter with financing mechanisms, and protection with agricultural insurance etc. And all this synergy must be established. This requires a combination of the efforts of each other. That is why AGM platform works with private and institutional partners, such as the employers and chambers of commerce in the various countries in which we operate, but also public sector players to solve an equation which remains crucial to meet the challenge: the adoption of real measures which facilitate emerging African agriculture.
In practical terms, what are you advocating?
Agrobusiness, in Africa as in the rest of the world, remains crucial, as this it has must feed the people. In Africa, given the liberalization policy, local producers and small producers have been disadvantaged, but investment in the entire value chain has also been discouraged. When local products compete with imported products that flood the stalls in African markets, how can we encourage investment? An issue to be analyzed and resolved by the various decision-makers.
This requires political will. However, the latest EPA agreements have resulted in even more open African markets, but without access to the European market or on very limited terms. How can we encourage young people in this context to carry out agricultural activites?
Indeed, there is no coherence between the signing of the EPAs and the stated willingness to promote Agrobusiness. But we must not stop there and take the measure of the current context. That is to say a context of global crisis where solutions will have to be found to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Today, Africa has enormous opportunities not only to ensure food security, which is far from being the case, but also to meet a global need. Hence our vision, “Africa Grenier du Monde” is important. With more than half of the available arable land reserves, and the hydraulic and human potential – due to unprecedented population growth … As such, as long as structural measures required are not taken to support the entrepreneurial movement we observe today in the agricultural sector, we will move forward with no turtle. We have a wonderfull class of agrobusinessmen emerging from Africa, for examples Dangote, Satchivi, Akha and many others. All this reflects a real dynamic that does not date from today but all will tell you that they are facing an international competition against which they are not armed. If we want to give this new generation of entrepreneurs a chance to become Bill Gates of agribusiness, we will have to enable them to meet these challenges, namely to review international agreements and customs policies that can be improved, protection of markets to be considered. This has been done in countries like Senegal with onion speculation: imports are banned during the production period, enabling local producers not only to increase productivity but to increase their incomes and aspire to become Efficient agrobusiness entrepreneurs.
You are talking about a more favorable context today. Thanks to innovations in particular? In terms of technology but also financing …
Indeed, things have evolved and continue to evolve very quickly. Today, it is a modern agriculture, which suggests a real revolution. We can talk about the beautiful energy generated by the ICTs. Today we have drones that allow us to manage farms remotely, we have online platforms that can find financing, others offering marketing spaces, social networks also participate in the transmission of the ” Information … And many other examples.