Feast and famine for Africa farm investment
Ethiopia alone requires $11 billion until 2020.
However, a good chunk of the total private funds raised for the region remained idle last year, he said.
"While the investors have gone out and raised quite a lot of money, putting that money to use is another thing," Arora said.
Operating in Africa comes with its unique challenges like opaque land rights, fragmented land in some areas, lack of skills, and poor or non-existent infrastructure.
Even when there is ready financing, small farmers, who make up about 70 percent of agricultural activity, are reluctant to borrow because many are financially illiterate, cannot write up business plans, or are put off by high interest rates.
To address this the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is guaranteeing commercial bank loans for agriculture on one hand, and teaching farmers how to run their farms like enterprises on the other.
So far, the Bill and Melinda Gates-supported organisation has made available $17 million in guarantees that has enabled banks to lend another $160 million.
Some governments are now catching up and giving similar incentives. Nigeria is offering commercial banks $500 million to unlock $3 billion.
In Tanzania -- where AGRA's $2 million of guarantees to the National Microfinance Bank led to $10 million in loans -- maize yields in some farms have tripled to 4.5 tonnes per hectare.
"The private sector needs to see a viable business opportunity from the agriculture sector, and the agriculture actors need to practice their operations as a business," said Nixon Bugo, an Innovative Financing officer at AGRA.
With a one billion-strong population growing at 2.3 percent each year, governments are allocating more budget resources to farming but the amounts are still woefully low and the outlook for Africa's hungry millions remains precarious.
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