The Central African Republic can lift millions of people out of poverty by transforming its vital agriculture sector as a key driver of economic growth, says the World Bank in its latest Economic Update report on the country.
About 75% of Central Africans, particularly women, depend on agriculture for their livelihood, mostly informal jobs. However, the sector has been hampered in recent years by lack of investment and modernization, as well as poor infrastructure, says the report, titled Weathering Growing Risks: Addressing Macro-Fiscal Challenges and Unlocking the Potential of the Agriculture Sector.
Bold and sustained reforms to revitalize agriculture, as a significant contributor to poverty reduction, are urgent, as CAR’s economy faces overlapping crises. Higher food and fuel prices, disruption in supply chains, political turmoil following the adoption of the cryptocurrency law, and the impact of the war in Ukraine, are slowing economic growth in CAR, with risks tilted to the downside.
“CAR has abundant arable land and a favorable climate for agriculture and livestock,” said Guido Rurangwa, World Bank’s Country Manager for the Central African Republic. “A comprehensive strategy, underpinned by concrete reforms, can unlock the potential of the agriculture sector, protect livelihoods, accelerate growth, create jobs, and improve the living conditions of Central Africans.”
A cycle of political instability in the 2000s and 2010s have contributed to the sector’s diminishing share in GDP growth from 55% in 2011 to 32% in 2020, as the production of crops, livestock, forestry, and fishery have all declined. Over the past decade, public investments in agriculture have averaged less than 3% of total public sector spending, well below the 10% target set under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, a continent-wide initiative of the African Union.
In order to transform the agriculture sector as a key driver of growth and prosperity in CAR, the report identifies five priority areas:
Institutional Framework: Decades of conflict, instability, and uneven progress on the structural reform agenda have badly damaged the agricultural institutional framework. Establishing a regulatory framework for rural finance, a national farmers database with groups classification and adopting the agropastoral land code could help strengthen the capacity of farmers and herders.
- Access to Finance: Access to basic capital for farming activities is a major bottleneck. A rural finance regulatory framework and low-interest loans from microfinance institutions and expansion of mobile banking services could help transition farmers from the informal to the formal credit market and from subsistence to commercial agriculture.
- Access to Markets: Poor road conditions severely hamper farmers’ access to markets. The need to improve the quality of roads and transportation is vital for the movement of agricultural products from rural farms.
- Land Rights and Ownership: Outdated land laws do not favor agricultural development and there is no legal instrument for managing and securing agricultural land. An agro-pastoral code, set up by the Ministry of Agriculture, to guide the acquisition and securing of agricultural land is a step in the right direction to enable the efficient allocation of land for pasture and crop farming.
- Farming Inputs and Equipment: Manual farming is the norm in CAR, with less than 1% of farmers able to afford the use of tractors and tillers. Similarly, farmers are likely to use cheaper alternative fertilizers to grow their crops. Efforts are needed to not only to enhance availability of agricultural machinery but its use by farmers.
The report highlights the importance of agriculture to women, who represent more than 78% of agricultural labor in CAR. Empowering them is essential for the well-being of families and rural communities and overall economic productivity, as well as for improving food security and reducing poverty.