How exciting can an African Union ‘Biennial Review’ really be?

As the UK disentangles itself from European Union collective action, the African Union is finding ways to work together to reach new heights of transparency and accountability. The Heads of State and Governments from the continent’s 55 countries are setting about a peer review of their performance of agriculture, including tackling poverty and malnutrition. This radical development has the potential to significantly motivate the continent’s leadership in their efforts, and those of their partners, to end hunger, boost the incomes of farmers, create jobs and meet the demands for food from a modern and growing urban population.

This Biennial Review of the agriculture sector is very welcome and it is an exciting development. It has been in process since African Heads of State and Government in 2014 made an ambitious commitment to demonstrate results and accountability for their progress on agriculture.

The Biennial Review consists of a report and summary scorecard that will be reviewed by Heads of State and Governments every two years, starting in January 2018. One off reviews can amount to very little, but regular reviews…now that offers something different. Underpinning the commitment is a firm African Union stance to end hunger on the continent by 2025, well in advance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Putting aside the naked (and probably unrealistic) ambition for a moment, undoubtedly rapid acceleration of efforts is essential between now and 2025 to crowd in the finance, develop new partnerships, and improve policy to get anywhere close to achieving SDG 2 (‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture’) by 2030.

Technical partners (for instance IFPRI, AGRA, Africa Lead) have been busy bolstering capacity and gaps to ensure the Biennial Review is delivered on time, but it has been an effective African-led process to collate the data, validate it and review the information at country, regional and continental levels, to enable consolidation into a continental dashboard. A fantastic achievement by the African Union. We only have a short wait until January’s African Union Summit before all is revealed.

So, what might we learn? Almost 50 countries across the continent have provided information against a set of 43 indicators, covering agricultural productivity, finance investment for agriculture at production, reducing poverty, and improving nutrition. While the AU report and scorecard is under wraps, we can predict there will be great variation between countries on their progress. It will be valuable to see the areas where a majority of countries are falling down and to recognise the substantial successes, and reasons for those successes. Though I suspect that many of the findings will already be known within the countries from which the information originates.

The additional value of the Biennial Review comes at a time when most African countries are developing new national agricultural investment plans, and it is these which provide the basis for government convened collective action to accelerate progress. No countries can hide anymore, and laggards will be outed. Beyond this, weaknesses in the quality or quantity of data provided by each country should also result in renewed efforts by national governments and development partners to progressively improve the systems that produce the data. While government economists and policy makers rightly receive regular production of GDP data to help steer the economy, so too should agricultural and nutrition policy specialists receive regular information from across the agriculture sector to energise efforts and evolve policy and financing.

African Union summits happen twice a year.  Despite the universal agreement that growing agriculture and the associated growth in jobs is essential for Africa’s development, the political attention to the sector is not commensurate. The upcoming January 2018 summit is a fantastic and high profile moment to demonstrate leadership capable of permanently carving out a new narrative for Africa to maximise agricultural growth, incomes, and opportunity for all. The commitment to a Biennial Review offers a series of moments, led by Africa’s leaders, to shepherd the end of hunger on the continent. This is definitely something to get excited about.