INDiplomacy attended the conference that consulting firm Andersen, together with the Italian employers’ federation, Confindustria, and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, organized to explore business and investment opportunities in West Africa’s agricultural sector. The conference was part of the broader “The Bridge Africa-Europe” initiative.
by Leonardo Brembilla
Strengthening relations between Africa and Europe in the agricultural field and exploring opportunities offered by the markets of Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast: these were the objectives of the second conference on sustainable development of business between Africa and Europe. The conference cycle was sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Confindustria’s branch Assafrica&Mediterraneo. The conference, organized as part of Andersen’s “The Bridge Africa-Europe” project, was held online on September 30, with the participation of numerous representatives from institutions and the private sector of the countries involved.
The conference – which followed a first meeting focused on renewable energy with specific reference to the markets of South Africa, Zambia and Namibia – aimed at taking an in-depth look, for the benefit companies and potential investors, to the agribusiness sector in West Africa, with a particular focus on three of the region’s biggest economies.
Agriculture has a crucial role in the economic development of the African continent. The connection with Europe in the field of agribusiness is increasingly significant and Italy, one of the world leaders in the agri-food sector, plays an important role in agricultural relations between the two continents.
According to Reginald Yofi Grant, CEO of the Ghana Investment Promotion Center, “Africa has great potential in terms of agriculture. About 60% of the entire planet’s uncultivated arable land is located in Africa. Furthermore, demographic growth and low average age make Africa both a potential pool of new consumers as well as a source of workforce, two important resources for the future of global agriculture“.
“However, to unlock this enormous potential we need to modernize agriculture [in Africa]. We must strengthen local supply chains, develop our food processing capability, and also enhance digitalization and improve quality standards. In this sense, partnerships with countries such as Italy are fundamental.”
Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast represent some of the most relevant economies in the region, with very strong agricultural sectors. “Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. We are committed to reducing our economy’s dependence on the oil sector, through diversification and the construction of new infrastructures, such as processing plants for agricultural products, in order to strengthen both local demand and exports” said Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Infrastructure, Trade and Investments. “We are ready to welcome new investors that can help us achieve these goals” concluded Mr. Adebayo.
Ivory Coast, as Swiss Ambassador Anne Lougon-Mulin explained, is the world’s biggest producer of cocoa beans. “This has had positive effects on the economy as a whole, but has also made the country highly dependent on international markets. An agricultural transformation plan is needed, in orfder to diversify agricultural production. Also, investments are needed to improve the skill of workers, the country’s infrastructure and public administration. Ivory Coast has always had a liberal economy, open to investment. Prospects are good, but there are some things that still need to improve” concluded Ms. Lougon-Mulin.
Ghana also made the modernization and diversification of the agricultural sector one of its priorities. “The sector offers many opportunities to foreign companies. Italy is a key player, and Ghana could benefit a lot from a more structured contact with Italian skills and technology” said Italian Ambassador Daniela d’Orlandi. Ms d’Orlandi then listed some of the Italian initiatives addressing the agricultural sector of Ghana, some launched by public institutions such as ITA, the Italian Trade Agency, and other originating from the private sector. These initiatives include a project by the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti group aimed at supporting local cocoa beans producers in improving quality and quantity of production in a sustainable way.
Fabrizio Lobasso, Deputy Director of the Italian Foreign Ministry’s Sub-Saharan Africa Office and former Italian Ambassador to Sudan, reminded everyone that the third Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference will soon kick off in Rome. The Conference will bring together delegations from 54 African countries, representatives of the African Union and other main African regional organizations, as well as Italian institutions and representatives of the business and academic sectors.
“This year’s event is linked to the Italian Presidency of the G20 and will focus on its three pillars: People, Planet, Prosperity. Unlike in the past, the meeting will no longer be a dialogue between unequal partners. Instead, it will be the occasion for a debate on an egalitarian basis between equally valid ideas and visions. Now more than ever we need a balanced intercultural dialogue, aimed at finding a common synthesis and focused on the values that unite us” concluded Lobasso.