Idit Miller, EMRC VP: Africa needs more regional collaboration
Idit Miller, EMRC International Vice President and founding member, speaks to The Africa Report about how the business of agriculture must be carried through by Africa’s small scale farmers, if it is to be successful, and why the private sector and governments must wake up to this reality.
The Africa Report: What is the importance of initiatives like the AgriBusiness Forum for the everyday African farmer?
Idit Miller: The importance of this is crucial – introducing to local farmers engaging in subsistence agriculture to the tools of transformation – whether it is mechanisation and the use of tractors, or value-added production. Agriculture is a major global industry and our objective is to bring some of that business to Africa. There is no other sustainable alternative to the situation.
Is there a critical need to further engage and unpack regional initiatives regarding shared resources (like water basins) or even issues like logistics?
We heard at the just ended EMRC forum in Durban that at least 25 percent of the costs involved in trade is simply transport, it is logistics. We need to have more regional collaboration to lower these costs, exporting, for instance, to our neighbours, rather than solely importing and exporting to European countries. The potential for regional trade is vast and is being developed – if we look at the SADC and other agreements. We need better and more focused rules on regional interaction whether it is regarding shared regional resources or logistical issues.
What were the obstacles in developing ‘small agriculture in big Africa’ as a successful initiative, given that it is usually corporate-state or corporate-corporate deals that garner attention and are perceived as ‘credible’?
The challenges were many and overcoming it, as we still are in the process of, was difficult. The first obstacle was convincing potential partners – developed nations, organizations and investors that Africa was ready and right for this important initiative. We know all about the problems – from training to equipment, tenure insecurity and other related legal issues, but across the continent, the people are wonderful and warm, they are hard workers and embracing this concept. We have succeeded, for example, in introducing partners like Rabobank to countries like Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire. Now, they have four micro-finance initiatives in Africa (mainly in Eastern and Southern areas).
How relevant is the agricultural futures exchange, example, information sharing, to the everyday African farmer, and more broadly, cooperatives…?
It is very important. You do have governments that are entering into the futures exchange, mainly in the SADC regions, and this is critical to the development and success of the agricultural industry across the continent.
Why was Africa identified by your team as a potential site?
It was a willingness to help. We started out, 19 years ago, in Europe, working with the Eastern countries that would become part of the EU. We came across Africa almost by coincidence, when projects and ideas were brought our way. For the past 15 years we have been working solely with the continent, looking for and developing opportunities.
Do you agree with the FAO’s statement that agriculture must be underpinned by private sector?
The government has to be the number one player when it comes to the big projects – energy, infrastructure, and very importantly, the law. Without secure, property rights and titles, there is no security and confidence for domestic or foreign parties. The government, however, must enable the environment. They have shown that they do not know how to develop the agricultural industry as a commercially viable business. This must be led by the private sector.
What are your thoughts on the ‘barter exchange’ mega-scale, resource specific, engagement between China (and Chinese corporations) and African states – a good model, or benevolently exploitative?
This is a very delicate point. Certainly, China has brought considerable investment and business to Africa. But, as I always tell our members, their destiny is in their own hands. Nobody can do it for them like they can do it for themselves. China’s primary interest is their own populations and their own business interests on the continent. African governments must be more involved in this initiative rather than simply selling their raw materials at a very low cost. This engagement must not be based on political motivations, but rather, market-driven systems — then, prices will be higher, demand will be higher, investors will be confident.
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