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Remarks by CEO Alice Albright at AGRA Board event: Investing in Food Systems Transformation in Africa

April 12, 2023

As prepared by Alice Albright

Good afternoon!

Thank you, AGRA Board Chair Dessalegn, President Dr. Kalibata, Colleagues, and distinguished guests. It is an honor to join such an impressive group of leaders for this important and timely conversation.

You have heard here today that Africa is currently facing an unprecedented food crisis. 1 in 5 Africans are currently food insecure. Climate change and conflict are perennial contributors. COVID and constrained fiscal space have exacerbated these challenges. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to drive higher prices for grain, fuel, and fertilizer. The confluence of factors can be dizzying.

Last December, at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit, President Biden said: “we’re facing a global food crisis, and nowhere is it felt more keenly than on the African continent.” The President also announced the U.S. – A.U. partnership on food security, which is working to diversify agricultural suppliers and identify key obstacles to scale agricultural production and investments. While MCC’s mandate goes well beyond food security, I cannot think of one area in which we work – roads, water, power, land, health or education – that doesn’t touch on this challenge in some way.

MCC’s mission is to reduce poverty through economic growth – growth that is inclusive, sustainable, and private sector-led. Since 2004, we have partnered with 46 countries around the world, 14 of which are in Africa. Globally, we have invested more than $15 billion toward economic development programs improving the lives of 270 million people.

And we are investing more than $5 billion worldwide to address the most pressing issues that are contributing to food insecurity. This work cuts across three main areas that resonate with AGRA’s work:  country-driven and regional solutions; policy and institutional reforms, and catalyzing private sector growth. Let me briefly touch on all three.

First, country driven and regional solutions. MCC’s partner countries are ultimately in the driver’s seat in determining where we invest our funds. This is based on their national priorities and how we together identify binding constraints to growth. For example, in Lesotho: agriculture is dominated by maize, livestock, beans, wheat, sorghum, and peas. Drought driven by climate change has devastated harvests and livestock. To address this, as part of a larger $300 million compact, we are implementing an irrigation project to facilitate better collaboration between commercial farms and small-holder farmers, and with this we hope to promote a transition from rain-fed subsistence farming to climate-smart commercial agriculture.

Our goal is to produce high value crops, build strong value chains, and ultimately raise rural incomes. Country by country, however, is not enough. Economic growth is dynamic and transcends borders.

So, in 2018, MCC received new authority to better facilitate regional integration and trade. At the Africa Leaders’ Summit in December 2022, MCC signed our first regional compact between Benin and Niger to improve the flow of goods between Niamey and Cotonou. The $504 million compact connects a landlocked capital with a port and is expected to benefit over 1.2 million people on both sides of the border.

Second, policy and institutional reform. MCC often invests in hard infrastructure, but for these investments to be sustainable, we must create the right enabling environment and part of our work typically focuses on policy and institutional reform. We have worked on trade, land tenure, tax policy, access to technology and capital goods, agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and seeds, amongst others.

What we have seen, is without a supportive enabling environment, farmers lack the means to improve incomes, lack access to markets, and lack incentives to invest in their future. This is particularly true for policies that adversely impact women and girls.

In Niger, for example, MCC supported fertilizer sector reform that embraced a market-driven approach with the intention to support poor farmers. Our investment increased farmer’s access to fertilizer from 25,000 metric tons in 2018 to 90,000 metric tons in 2021.

In Morocco, MCC just completed a $460 million compact, part of which was focused on reforming land titling. We worked with the government to make land titling more equitable and inclusive, over an area of more than 40,000 hectares. Over this area we have been able to expand the percentage of female land title holders from 1 percent to 40 percent.

Last but not least, private sector growth. Country-led solutions and a supportive enabling environment address only part of the equation. For our partners to truly thrive, we must bring in the private sector. And this is where many of you come in, too. MCC is working closely with the private sector to ensure our investments add value both during and after our projects end.

In Mozambique, where we are developing a significant compact, fisheries play a major role in supporting food security, employment, and socioeconomic development. MCC is exploring opportunities to collaborate with partners on a coastal climate project to help restore over 11,000 acres of mangroves, preserve the region’s blue economy, and re-establish market linkages that will help poor households, many of whom are female-headed.

But, we need your help to do more. For example, in Lesotho, there are opportunities to co-invest in MCC-supported projects that are focused on improving the first mile after harvest such as irrigated horticulture and renewable cold chains. At MCC, we are working on new approaches to design effective agricultural projects and measure economic benefits.

But, we want to learn from you, we want to work with you to further promote innovation in this critical space. Ultimately, better coordination amongst all of us in this room will enable us to better deliver for our partners. Thank you.