A growing African food sector can yield private sector returns on the back of government support, said a report on Tuesday (26 October), which also said that a global grain reserve may be needed to protect consumers from price spikes.
Local initiatives aiming for an African equivalent of the Green Revolution, which swept developing countries in the 1970s and 1980s, needed coordination, the report added.
For example an African Union (AU) strategy aimed to drive economic development through investment in agriculture at a tenth of national budgets, given new impetus by a 2008 food crisis which prompted $20 billion aid for agriculture.
"It's a focus on the great and proven potential of African agriculture," said Imperial College London's Gordon Conway, chair of a panel of authors of the report, titled 'Africa and Europe: Partnerships for Agricultural Development'.
"We can continue to parachute in sacks of grain, but it's much better to focus on making sure the seeds and fertilisers are present in the hands of the dealers in the villages."
"We are in a period of optimism about the prospects for Africa and African agriculture," the report concluded.
The Green Revolution in Mexico, India and elsewhere met large increases in yields through steps such as investment in irrigation, fertilisers and high yielding crops.
In Africa cereal yields were as little as one third those in developed countries, said Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, another author, but she pointed to successes for example in Nigerian cassava and of the adoption of higher yielding rice varieties.
"Africa is now organised and ready for business," she said.
The AU initiative aimed to achieve 6% annual growth in farm output by 2015 compared with 3% annually over the past decade. Tuesday's report cited estimates that the sector may be worth $800 billion by 2030 compared with $280 billion now.
It intended to galvanise European private and public sector investment, following similar investment in African farmland and businesses by large emerging economies including China.
Private sector investment would not over-turn problems of malnutrition, however, where 200 million Africans are under-fed and five million die annually from hunger. That required public support, possibly including a global grain reserve to ease food price spikes which hurt the poor more, the report said.
"Food price spikes, particularly the one in 2007-08, had a devastating impact on African consumers. Speculators drive these spikes higher than they would otherwise be," said Conway.
"These spikes need some form of physical grain reserve to moderate them," he added, saying that he was not advocating a government takeover of commodity markets.