AgriBusiness Forum 2013 interview of Eugenia Serova Director of Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization
EMRC: As the recently appointed new Director for FAO’s Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division what will be the driving vision for your division?
Eugenia Serova: Initially I was appointed a leader for development of one of five new FAO Strategic Objectives, namely Enabling Incisive and Efficient Agricultural and Foods Systems and already in this capacity was assigned as a director of Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division (AGS). Designing its new Strategic Framework FAO identified agribusiness and value chain development as its high-level priority. Respective Strategic Objective was hosted at AGS. This definitely significantly increased the importance of the division in organisation and the role of topics of the division in the FAO agenda, this will drive the division in the next four years.
– Why FAO identifies this issue as its priority? Global food challenges are different today than in the past, and so are the solutions. Globalization and the commercialization have brought revolutionary changes to agricultural and food systems: the primary sector is characterized by increasingly integrated supply chains; agriculture and food systems are becoming more science- and capital-intensive. Rapid urbanisation makes supply chains more complex and diverse. Global agricultural markets are more integrated and more risky.
– These developments have yielded positive results, but at the same time have created serious barriers for smallholder producers and small countries to participate in local, national and global markets. Increasing their participation in food and agricultural systems is critical to achieving FAO’s goal of a world without hunger. Improving the efficiency of such systems will help ensure the responsible use of available resources, improve incomes, reduce waste and loss, and promote the delivery of products that are healthy and safe to eat. So we need to develop solutions how to increase inclusiveness of all stakeholders in the markets without hurting efficiency.
EMRC: How significant is the fact that this year’s AgriBusiness Forum will be held in Rwanda?
ES: It is a especially opportune choice of venue. Rwanda has been very successful in promoting a favourable environment for economic growth: in the last two years it made around 8% on average and forecast ogf growth are also rather high – above 7%. Its economy is fast growing and doing so in an inclusive way, with a sizable proportion of the population being lifted above the national poverty line in the recent past. Agriculture is still the major source of employment in the country (73% of country labour force) and therefore considered a priority in the development agenda of the country and efforts to intensify production, boost productivity and improve infrastructure are under way, opening up opportunities for agribusiness investments and further income growth. Agribusiness development will also contribute to needed diversification of national economy.
– It also worth to mention that Rwanda was elected to the UN Security Council which for sure witness of increased international aknowledge of country’s development achievements.
EMRC: How do you think the country and region have evolved in terms of its Agri-Food sector and the direction it is taking in general towards agriculture?
ES: We should consider this issue on the background of relatively high resilience of African continent to the global economic crisis; the average growth rate in Africa makes up to 5%. Direct FDI are constantly growing into the Eastern Africa countries (EAC). It is quite favourable environment for development of business, including agribusiness. On the other side European economic crisis notably reduced the export markets for many these countries
– We also know that agriculture remains as the dominant sector of the economies of the ECA, providing a livelihood for about 80% of its population and responding for substantial shares of exports. Economic growth in the region has been faster than in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa and this has propelled domestic consumption and intra-regional trade, creating positive prospects for agri-food sector development not only in Rwanda, but also in the remaining countries of the EAC group. Looking ahead, it is important to notice that the EAC industrialization and economy diversification policy has a strong focus in the agri-food sector, having identified agro-processing as a strategic sub-sector through which food security and economic development of the region can be accelerated. In this respect, we should remark that FAO is currently supporting the EAC in the development of its East Africa Agribusiness and Agro-Industry Development Program, or E3ADP, which should provide further impetus to investments in the agri-food sector of the region.
EMRC:This year’s title is “The Agri-Food Sector: A Catalyst for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth in Africa”. On a practical level, how do you see the growth occurring?
ES: The realization of the full potential for inclusive growth in Africa will require that the encouraging examples of good governance and sound development policies we are seeing throughout the Continent continue and expand. In this context, focus on the agri-food sector as a strategic engine for growth will be of particular importance, given the social, demographic and economic trends that will generate a market for food and beverages recently estimated to reach $1 trillion in 2030. The expected growth in global commodity markets for Africa’s traditional exports are a further driver for agricultural and agribusiness development in the continent.
– I would like to mention that in the part of the world I originate from (Former Soviet Union) agri-food industry in the last 20 years has become a strong engine for agricultural development and agricultural earnings, what in its turn boosts overall rural incomes, enhances living standards in the villages. Small agro-based industries in the rural areas also provide job opportunities and also contribute to growth of incomes. In many instances investment to agro-industry are smaller, with shorter investment cycle and therefore associated with smaller risks. This why I believe in catalyst role of this business in economic growth.
EMRC:What are your goals/expected outcomes for the AgriBusiness Forum 2013?
ES: Just like in the previous years, we trust that the Forum will provide a privileged space for information sharing, professional networking, business partnership formation and high level debates on issues of relevance to agribusiness development in Africa. FAO is pleased to remain engaged in this long standing collaboration with EMRC and we look forward to another very successful Forum this year.