INDUSTRY and Commerce Minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, has said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents huge opportunities for the agro-industrial sector and called on it to ramp up output for that market.
In a virtual address on Friday during a United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) Forum on Building Resilient and Sustainable Agro-Industries to enhance Africa’s growth potential, the minister said a strong regional agriculture processing base was critical in transforming the continent.
She said Zimbabwe, guided by the National Development Strategy (NDS1), was already forging ahead in building a resilient economy by prioritising value chain development with agriculture given critical focus.
The sector is the mainstay of the country’s economy and provides up to 60 percent of raw materials for the manufacturing sector. In 2021, the agricultural sector contributed 17 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and the Government expects the growth of the sector to aid import substitution. As such, the minister said the Government was working closely with relevant private sector players to roll out targeted interventions aimed at scaling up agro-industrial output.
“We need to harness numerous opportunities that have been presented by the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement,” said Dr Nzenza.
“Intra-Africa trade in commodities and value-added products is very low currently hovering below 20 percent hence the need to integrate our cross-border value chains.
“There is room for collaboration as African countries and certainly with UNIDO, AfDB (African Development Bank), FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa) and other organisations to make this a reality.”
Zimbabwe is among the countries that have embraced the AfCFTA, which came into force early last year. In order to realise the AfCFTA gains and build successful and resilient agro-industries, the minister called for a pragmatic shift from treating agriculture as a way of life or social welfare system to a viable business model with appreciation of its contribution across value chains.
Dr Nzenza said it was commendable that in Zimbabwe, commercial banks have started supporting the agro-industrial sector through contract farming and joint venture programmes as well as public-private sector partnerships.
Given all the support, Dr Nzenza said there was no reason for Africa to be a net food importer, spending about US$35 billion annually on food imports.
“This is especially so because, the continent has 65 percent of the uncultivated arable land left in the world to feed nine billion people by 2050,” she said.
Enhancing improved output and meeting quality standards would, thus, require adoption of innovative approaches and solid investments towards building integrated infrastructure to complement existing agricultural production systems, said Dr Nzenza. By developing new ways of driving modernisation and transformation of agricultural commodity value chains, especially with the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs), the minister implored institutions of higher learning to radically modify their curriculums to impact positively on agri-business.
She also called for enhanced financial inclusion for farmers as a critical step for modernising African agriculture.
“In Zimbabwe, the Government is promoting financial inclusion through establishment of rural financial institutions that are aiding rejuvenation of agriculture,” said Dr Nzenza.
“Public-private-partnerships are strategic financing and organisational collaborations by private and public sector participants with synergies to achieve a goal for the whole.”