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Expert Says Investment in Agricultural Infrastructure Key to Economic Development


Developing Africa’s physical infrastructure was one of the subjects at the Summit on Trade and Investment, sponsored by the World Agricultural Forum (WAF) -- designed to meet the "growing need for food, fiber, fuel and water."

Improving agriculture to combat hunger through sustainable farming is the primary goal of a non-profit group called The "Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa." In this third of a five-part series, Voice of America, English to Africa reporter Cole Mallard talks to an expert in the Partnership about strategies concerning the role of infrastructure in successful agricultural enterprise.

Julie Howard is executive director of the Partnership, which is affiliated with the World Agricultural Forum. She was a speaker at the Summit on Trade and Investment, sponsored by the World Agricultural Forum. Howard says a broad spectrum of physical infrastructure is needed in Africa, including roads, sanitation, electricity, and water for irrigation and drinking. She says Africa’s rural infrastructure lags far behind other regions of the world. As examples, she points out that a low percentage of people in rural Africa live within two kilometers of a paved road, compared to much higher percentages elsewhere.

Howard says most of Africa’s agriculture is rain-fed, whereas other areas of the world, such as Asia and Latin America, use more irrigation. She says electricity per capita use in Africa is one-fifth the global average, which discourages businesses from investing in Africa. She says, “We’ve got enough studies under our belt at this point to know that the impact of infrastructure development on economic growth and income distribution is undisputed.”

She adds that infrastructure volume has a significantly positive effect on long-run economic growth and that economic development will not happen without investing in infrastructure. More specifically, Howard points out that all social services inter-relate and are equally affected by the degree of infrastructure available, such as roads and electricity. She adds that physical infrastructure affects development in other disciplines, such as transportation, health, education and communications. For example, she says, “I really am concerned about the way we say we can do infrastructure later – you know, “Let’s do health now; let’s do agriculture now.’ It’s really not a matter of deferring infrastructure to meet the other immediate needs that we may see.”

She says, “Unless we want to keep Africa on this treadmill of dependency, poverty and lack of opportunity, we’ve got to give this kind of fundamental step up that roads, electricity and water access will give them.”

THE FUTURE

Howard says that despite the past, Africa’s future infrastructure development looks more promising than ever: “I would argue that Africa’s really in the midst of a number of dramatic changes that are already beginning to show results in economic and governance spheres. And these changes are going to create confidence that will increase investment in infrastructure and also increase private sector investment.” She adds that within Africa itself, positive change and genuinely committed leadership is surfacing in a “sea change” over the last decade that indicates a continuing improvement in infrastructure investment “and a much more welcoming environment for private sector investment.”

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