Africans are rooted in the tradition of storytelling. In the globally acclaimed book Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe, children would congregate around their elders to listen to tales told through voice and gestures. Stories were the palm-oil with which morals, norms and values were eaten and passed to younger generations.

Today, in a world where storytelling has evolved into printed words and the realm of books, the role of the publisher has become increasingly important. In Africa, indigenous publishing not only serves to preserve culture by bequeathing history, experience and belief systems to the next generation but is also integral to economic development, creating a breeding ground for jobs on the continent. Aspirations for autonomy, however, fall apart in light of dominance by foreign publishers, fragile infrastructure and a sophisticated piracy culture.

The publishing industry offers assured economic benefits to Africa. It takes a village to publish a book, as evidenced by the large requisite investments in content creation, editorial work, and marketing. Even given these high costs, Africa’s large population of 1.3 billion people should be able to sustain the writing, editing, and manufacturing processes of a publishing industry in Africa. The World Bank announced that youths account for 60 percent of Africa’s joblessness. This is worrisome considering that Africa has the largest population of young people in the world. This tragic story of youth unemployment is often told close in hand with the success story of the continent’s speedy and steady economic growth. Jobless growth, however, has not been the solution to unemployment. Africa has been looking to its entrepreneurs to create jobs, but part of the solution might be its own publishing industry.

African writers are, however, exporting their human capital to the West, instead of achieving success back home and contributing to its economy. In her awardwinning book Americanah, Chimamanda Adichie, writes that Africans are “conditioned from birth to look somewhere else.”This is evident in African writers’ choices of metropolitan publishing houses over their own indigenous ones, seeking for global reach and their own economic rewards.

According to Brittle Paper, Americanah, when shifted to an American publishing firm, was able to sell over 500,000 copies sold in only two years. Other African writers have gone to win the Nobel Prize and other prestigious literary awards – Western seals of approval. Although this is a literary success for Africa, it is also an economic loss for it as many jobs back home depend on just a single story. According to Statista, the net revenue of the U.S. book publishing industry is 26 billion dollars. Africa, however, isn’t cashing on the increased global interest in its own stories.  The self-interest of African authors is understandable, as they seek for publishing houses abroad that have the financial capitals and marketing webs to promote their work, but one must consider if authors have an obligation to national development or themselves first.

Furthermore, Africa needs to fix its infrastructure deficit in order to contain its stories. Most households and places of work across Africa experience epileptic power outages. Across Africa, the reliability of electricity is more of an exception than the rule contributing to its reputation of being one of the riskiest places to do business. According to Former United Nations (U.N.)Secretary-General Kofi Anna, Sub-Sahara Africa “has a power generation capacity of 90 gigawatts and half of it is located in one country, South Africa.” This is less than the volume in South Korea where the population is only five percent of sub-Sahara Africa’s. Thus, people have been compelled to seek alternative power sources such as generators which increases electrical bills for businesses and the cost of their outputs making them only accessible to the elite populace. Unreliable power in Africa threatens the growth prospects of the publishing industry and it undermines job creation opportunities.

An infrastructure of bookstores also needs to be built up, and in some parts of Africa, from scratch, for publishing to become a thriving economic activity. When Adichie was asked by a French journalist at a press conference whether there were any bookstores in Nigeria, Pan-African uproar was generated across the continent. Although the question was considered ignorant, it was an opportunity for honest reflection – for Africa’s population size, the number of bookstores is abysmal. Based on 2015 estimates, while there are only 33 bookshops across Lagos, Nigeria (population 21 million), New York has 840 bookstores (population 8.4 million) and London has 360 (population 8.7 million). In Lagos’ case, why so much scarcity admits abundance? Furthermore, most of the bookstores that exist can only be found in highbrow areas isolated from the masses. E-commerce is still picking up on the continent and therefore, publishing houses still heavily rely on bookstores for distribution. Until the infrastructure is put in place to ease the transactions of the book into the hands of customers, publishing in Africa will not reach its full potential.

One cannot, however, solely point fingers at poor infrastructure for the lack of bookstores in Africa. Africa’s reading culture can carry part of the blame. First, while the world’s literary rate is 85 percent, according to the World Bank, the number plunges to 65 percent in Sub-Sahara Africa. That is, one third of people aged 15 above are unable to read. Thus, although Africa claims a lion share of the world population, the community of readers is only a handful compared to the rest of the world. Furthermore, from this community of readers, only a few read for leisure while the rest read subject books. A survey conducted by the Association for Development of education in Africa and the African Publishers estimated that up to 95 percent of books published in Africa were education compared to the more diverse ratio in the West of 60:40 textbooks to non-textbooks. Perhaps, a mushrooming of bookstores across the continent and increasing the reach of literary books to all communities might influence a reading culture improvement, rewriting not only Africa’s economic but social story.

Moreover, the scale and sophistication of book piracy in Africa should have the publishing industry worried. There are cases of the fakes being even better quality than the genuine publications and rarely can buyers spot a difference. Storymoja, a publishing company in Kenya, was shocked to learn that one of their plays was on sale, four weeks prior to its official release. Muthoni Garland, co-founder of Storymjoja explained his ordeal: “the book was stolen from the printer, scanned and was on the streets within a week of approval.” According to the New Publishing Standard, “Kenyan publishers lose $200,000 annually to piracy.Kenya’s challenges do not exist in isolation. Instead, the whip of piracy strikes across the continent and shakes the ground atop which publishing houses stand on. The printing of unauthorized literary work has become a profitable business menacing the economic gains of the publishing industry and costing it credibility issues as writers’ interest to publish their books at home wanes due to fear of being denied royalties from their intellectual property.

Some African publishing companies, however, have success stories to share. Despite obstacles, Cassava Republic, a Nigerian publisher, has outputted more than 50 titles, ranging from a spectrum of genres. Furthermore, it had a handful of titles being exported to the West in 2017. This was a milestone for African literature for rarely does a story travel from Africa to the West unfiltered by the taste palettes of Europeans and American publishers. Cassava Republic represents Africa’s ability to see value in its own stories and crown its own people. Success stories such as Cassava Republic’s, however, should not be limited to the number of fingers on a single hand.

In another award-winning book, Purple Hibiscus, Adichie writes, “that was the problem with our people, papa told us, our priorities were wrong.” In the past, governments across Africa have been too preoccupied with seeking economic development from archetypical lucrative activities that it has given little support to cultural industries. The time is ripe, however, to look at the art of storytelling through contemporary lenses. Nollywood alone, Nigeria’s movie industry, surpassed Hollywood as the word’s second-largest movie industry by volume, according to Fortune, becoming a $3.3 billion sector. Support needs to be afforded to the publishing industry as well, taking a careful look at the opportunities it can afford and investing in infrastructure to exercise its economic muscle. Furthermore, they should shift the problem of book piracy up in their agendas, setting stricter laws on copyright infringement in an effort to curtail the activities of book pirates. Only then might African writers return home and unleash their human capital. Right now, the elders must be bowing their heads, that stories stained with their own cultures have become imported goods from the West. But they know better than anyone, that things that fall apart can always build back up.

Is the future African? According to the UN report, a third of all people on earth will be African by 2100. Although this is only a projection, if history is any indication, the population of Africa will be much four times larger than it is today. The World Economic Forum shows that while the population in Africa was estimated to be 140 million in 1990, it grew to one billion just twenty years later. From a big picture perspective, as the population of Africa increases, so will their presence in the digital and social media space. Africa’s new generation of millennials are already actively utilizing the digital landscape as a political tool to bring Africa as it is to them to the rest of the world.

Africa’s Millennials, usually defined as those born between 1981 and 1997, will likely be the ones to spearhead a new digital front on the continent.Who are Millennials? Also referred to as Generation Y, Millennial is the demographic cohort subsequent to Generation X. Although there is no clear-cut range of birth years one must fall within to be classified as a Generation Y, Pew Research Center defines the parameters as 1981 to 1997. Konstantin Makarov from Entrepreneur states, Gen Y “comprises 37 percent of the population…Making Africa the most youthful continent on the planet.” This is a generation cut from a different cloth from that of their parents. Many have been immersed in a digital world from birth and are capable of wielding it to their advantage. Mark Kaigwa, founder of African digital strategy consultancy Nendo says, “a big part of Africans online is the ‘corrective element’ of their sharing from the continent.” Whether intentional or not, their mere presence online is political, created to send a message to the world.

There has been an urgency to bring attention to a new and real African narrative for years. Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, warned about the dangers of a one-sided story of the continent. Africa, she says, is painted in the world as a “single story of catastrophe” – one plagued by poverty, war, death and even a “well-meaning pity”. It is not that these descriptors are totally inaccurate, but they cannot offer a full account modern-day Africa. President Trump’s “sh**hole countries” remarks targeted at African nations at the beginning of this year flagged Adichie’s arguments, epitomizing the need for a fresh take of Africa. It will take a significant effort to remediate Africa’s mud hut image once and for all, but fortunately, the rising, young generation of Africans is up to the task.

Africa has always been a hub of creativity, but combined with social media, Africa’s unique talent can more easily circulate, hopefully to portray a more accurate picture of the continent. A prime example of this is JTO, a fashion blog created by Nigerian born and London based Temi Otedola (21 years old), who seeks to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. In her travel diaries, JTO Takes Lagos, Otedola posts photos and vlogs backdropped by local and diverse Lagosian landscape. From the busy streets of Lekki market to the exclusive members-only glammed up clubs on Victoria Island, her diaries give her international viewership a new spectrum of images of Africa which Western media too often hides, opting for the bad extremes only.

Along with Temi Otedola, Ada Afoluwake Ogunkeye is another young African using the power of social media to globalize a new African narrative. Her web series, “The New Africa”, documents her travel around the “sights, sounds and sensations of city life” on the African continent. She takes in the luxury and recreation cities, such as Maputo, Mozambique and Kampala, that Uganda have to offer. In one of the episodes, Folu confesses, “when I see pictures of Africa…this is not the story of where I come from. [Africans] experience [their] land in an entirely different way.” This web series offers its viewers a crash course on African visual literacy, allowing the viewers to play witness to the daily reality of Africans themselves.

A fascination with African weddings, fueled by social media outlets, is also helping to revise the African narrative. Created by Uchenna Jennifer Eze (33 years old), “Bellanaija Weddings” is an Instagram account with over 2.8 million followers. The account shares photos and videos of lavish wedding celebrations across Africa, which often span the course of several days. In a CNN article, “Inside Nigeria’s Million-Dollar Wedding”, Torera Idowu writes that weddings “are considered one of the major contributors to Nigeria’s economy.” Moreover, he states that they can cost as high as 277,393 dollars with the average cost falling within the range of 9,460 to 13,515 dollars. These African fairytale weddings are diversifying the images that appear when one Google-searches the continent. Africa is not plagued by only war and poverty. Instead, love drives the economy of Nigeria, where a lack of money does not seem to be a concern for Africans willing to spend thousands of dollars on a single night celebrating the union between two people.

Africa’s Millennials are leveraging social media in order to globalize a new and grounded story for Africa. They seek to show that the worst extremes, so often held up as the image of their home, are not akin to their everyday story. The current Western narrative does not account for the Africa with scenic countryside and city lights, the Africa made up of 54 distinct countries each with their own folklore and GDP or the Africa that gathers thousands of people together to witness the tying of the knot. As the population in Africa rises, the hope is that new voices will tell Africa’s story, but for now, millennials are leading the chorus, and the world is listening. Although African millennials grew up in very different times and circumstances from their predecessors, they are still the product of a shared history, and what a relief it must be for their ancestors to know that this generation has a love for Africa worth fighting for and protecting.

The Arabic word hawala translates to payment or debt transfer and is the name of an informal money transfer system, traditionally used in the Muslim world, that is both criticized vehemently and relied heavily upon. It has been used to fund terror but remains an essential part of the economies of numerous developing countries.

Existing in various forms and to various degrees throughout the world, informal funds transfer (IFT) systems are used to transfer money both domestically and internationally between two parties. Hawala refers to the financial payment system that is used primarily in the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent to transfer funds between two locations via a network of money brokers called “hawaladars.”

The hawala money transfer system predates modern banking. In fact, its origins can be traced back as far as the early Middle Ages during which time Middle Eastern merchants operated in territory that was characterized by the complete absence of formal legal systems of order. This made complex business dealings unpredictable and expensive. Additionally, the contemporary Middle and Near East were composed of an amalgamation of small tribal regions that were only loosely associated by their adherence to Islam, making it hard to complete business transactions over distances. The hawala system arose to facilitate long-distance transactions and provide stability and consistency to the economic system of the ancient Middle East. The original hawala system operated as follows:

Person A approaches hawaladar A and gives him money to send to person B. Hawaladar A knows that his associate, hawaladar B, lives near person B so he sends a bill of receipt, rather than a large quantity of cash, to hawaladar B, who proceeds to contact and give the requisite amount of money to person B. Hawaldars A and B can balance their accounts by making a similar, reverse transaction with different clients, or hawaladar A can send the money on foot, but protected, to hawaladar B. The hawaladars make a profit by charging a small fee.

In this way, businesses were able to execute monetary transactions over large distances without, in many cases, physically moving money from one place to another. In the modern era, the hawala system is primarily used by foreign workers to send remittances home to their families, and requires the two parties exchanging money to also exchange a “remittance code,” over phone or email, in place of a bill of receipt. Thus, large quantities of money can be transferred in periods of less than 24 hours. The speed of money transfer, along with the informal, hassle-free, and non-bureaucratic nature of hawala (customers usually do not require an account or identification) makes it an attractive option to foreign workers looking to send money home. The hawala system can also be a much less costly option than modern banking due to hawaladars’ low overhead costs. This continues to allow their fees to be very competitive. In addition, because hawaladars only periodically balance their accounts, there is no physical movement of cash and no official foreign exchange transactions take place, allowing hawala operators to often provide better exchange rates than banks.

In developing countries such as Somalia, years of violence and economic upheaval have resulted in the lack of a formal banking infrastructure and a dependence upon the hawala system. Roughly 80 percent of the Somali population receives approximately $1.2 billion annually in remittances from the country’s diaspora. The money is largely used by the families of expatriate workers to cover basic needs and living expenses and vastly exceeds international aid flows in the region. Another developing country which has historically depended upon the hawala system is Afghanistan. A 2003 World Bank report on hawala in Afghanistan cited that the majority of the nation’s international aid institutions and NGOs use the hawala system to transfer money into and around the country to fund humanitarian efforts. Edwina Thompson, in her 2005 book studying the Afghan drug industry, estimated that up to $1.5 billion in remittances flowed into Afghanistan through hawala networks, highlighting their dependence on the system.

Unfortunately, just as relief money flows through Afghanistan’s hawala networks, so to does $1.7 billion in revenue from the country’s Opium trade according to Thompson. Throughout the rest of the Middle East, the system has been linked with similar black market activities such as the funding of terror and money laundering. Isolated from modern banking institutions, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has relied heavily on the hawala system to move money domestically and abroad. Hawaladars are willing to facilitate these money transfers for a fee of 10 percent, twice the amount charged before ISIL’s rise. Thus, millions of dollars move in and out of the Islamic State every day, significantly undermining the efforts of the international community to isolate the group from its finances and disrupt its economy. ISIL uses the hawala system to import and pay for food for its subjects and supplies for its fighters. The group also collects revenue via a 10 percent religious tax (known as “zakat”) levied on funds moving out of the territory. The hawala system has also been linked to the funding of other terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and North Africa such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliate Al-Shabaab.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the hawala system has been the subject of intense criticism and scrutiny from international lawmakers and financial regulators because of its potential use in the financing of terrorism. Being an informal, trust based money transfer system, hawala is very hard to track and regulate. Most hawaladars do not question who money is going to or what it is for, they merely move it. Thus, there is not much accountability on the part of service providers, and there is almost zero accountability for clients. These links have led to a crackdown on hawala organizations across Europe and the United States. More stringent regulations requiring hawaladars to keep records of transfers and the identities of clients as well as penalties upon banks associated with suspect hawaladars have been imposed. This causes problems as the hawala system remains very hard to track and rather than risk the consequences of being associated with the funding of terrorism, some western banks isolate themselves entirely from the hawala system. Consequently, it has become hard for legitimate hawaladars to operate efficiently as their access to bank accounts has been reduced and their bureaucratic costs have risen to meet regulations.

The pivotal role that the hawala system plays in the economies of many developing nations means that any attempts to regulate it could end in economic disaster. Despite their necessity, remittances to Somalia have been impeded by suspicion of the hawala system. Periodic shutdowns of hawala organizations, such as that implemented by Kenya in early 2015, run the risk of spurring economic and humanitarian crisis. In the wake of a terrorist attack on the country’s Garissa University College in April of 2015, the Kenyan government shut down 13 hawala firms through which most remittance money going from Europe and the US to Somalia was transferred. This shutdown lasted until June 2015 and cut off, for that period of time, the millions of dollars in daily inflows to the Somali region that remittances provided, causing the Somali currency to lose 25 percent of its value and increasing the quantity of black market transactions in the country.

The juxtaposition between necessity and exploitation is a central issue in the hawala system as it currently exists throughout the Middle East. The system simultaneously assists in the development of third world countries and is used to fund black market activities that keep such nations in a perpetually “developmental” state. The hawala system’s fluid, personal nature is such that too much regulation renders it obsolete, while too little removes any form of accountability. The next step in solving the problem of hawala seems to be the development and, more importantly, the ubiquitous imposition of effective regulations on the system. Once this step has been taken, a fundamental obstruction to economic growth in countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan will have been removed.

The mention of “Africa” typically does not echo back notions of “technology,” “innovation” or “entrepreneurship” in the minds of many people. Many countries within the continent are still associated with ideas of war, poverty and famine – but this is an incomplete story.

The so-called millennial generation is reshaping Africa’s entrepreneurship culture one startup at a time, with 90 tech hubs having already been established. Unlike previously when young talented entrepreneurs left their home countries, there is a greater incentive now for entrepreneurs to stay and establish their own companies.

“There is a paradigm shift [in Africa] from seeking employment or the opportunity to leave the continent to creating a future with opportunity,” Eric Osiakwan, co-founder of Angel Fair Africa, which invests in high tech and high growth ventures in Africa, said.

With a flurry of new startups and capital raising occurring on the continent, Africa has the potential become a hub for social entrepreneurialism that can support pioneers and help solve socioeconomic problems that hamper its growth and development.

Today, many African countries face critical socioeconomic issues, namely high rates of poverty and unemployment, and widespread inaccessibility to education. According to Gallup World, the ten countries with the highest number of residents living in extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $1.25 per day, were all from Africa. The World Review predicts that, by 2020, Africa will have more than 122 million jobseekers. These statistics demonstrate the need and market opportunity for entrepreneurial projects that will reduce unemployment, boost the continent’s economic growth and mitigate its socioeconomic problems.

Fortunately, there has never been a more willing generation of young Africans. The Future Awards Africa, an annual award ceremony that spotlights young Africans who have showcased exceptional vision, passion, and commitment to a social or developmental cause, received close to 800 nominations for last year’s count of Africa’s brightest young entrepreneurs below 30 years old. For instance, Alain Nteff, concerned by the high mortality rate of pregnant women and newborn born babies in his own local Cameroonian community created an app called Gifted Mom that helps mothers and health workers calculate due dates. According to Forbes, there has been a 20 percent increase in antenatal attendance rate for pregnant women in 15 rural communities due to the takeoff of the app.

Other impactful African startups include Eco Shoes Projects, which sells crafts made by artisans with disabilities, SunSweet Solar which builds inexpensive small-scale power plants for Tanzanian homes and businesses and Njorku which connects jobseekers with employers across Africa. Several startups, such as Obami and Shasha Iseminar, are geared towards making education more accessible for the masses.

Considering the potential power entrepreneurship has in shaping Africa, it is not surprising, then, that investments in African startups have increased. VC4Africa was founded in 2008 as an online community of venture capitalists, angels and entrepreneurs dedicated to building businesses in African countries. VC4Africa reported in 2015 that 104 investments in startups across Africa were listed in their platform, with a total amount of USD 27 million, which is more than double the prior year’s figures.

Yet, it would be premature to overstate that entrepreneurship will eradicate all of Africa’s problems. It is, however, reasonable to suggest that it will likely move the continent in a better direction socially and economically. Job opportunities are increasing in almost every African country due to the creation of new businesses. Approximately six jobs are created for every new venture, and that number is expected to quadruple resulting in about 4176 new jobs according to a report released by VC4Africa 2015.

The belief that investing in Africa is risky, however, stands in the way for obtaining yet more funding. The costs of service in Africa as well as the cost of electricity and Internet connection are extraordinarily high according to Global Risk Insights. There is a fear that these high costs will eat away at revenue for foreign companies.

Additionally, the majority of African entrepreneurs lack the formal education needed to succeed in the business world. Education is still inaccessible to many citizens in various parts of the continent and the quality of education is still subordinate to that of many non-African countries. The budget allocated to education of a single country such as France, Germany, Italy or the United Kingdom outweighs education spending across the entire sub-Saharan African region, according to a new report from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). This naturally begs the question: is it realistic to expect people with an inadequate education to start a business and be successful? Shortage of local talent can be seen as a red flag, especially for investors and executives of foreign corporations.

But despite these systematic problems that might deter foreign investment, this generation of African entrepreneurs is attempting to find big solutions to big problems. Their positive impact is evident today as it pertains to the continent’s growth and development, and it is still possible that Africa will look drastically different years from now with its growing crop of entrepreneurs and investors.

Ever since the 2008 global food crisis put agriculture back in the spotlight, the international development community seems to have zeroed in on three key themes—smallholder farmers, higher investment in agriculture, and increasing productivity.

Hardly is this approach more evident than Pepsi Co.’s involvement in chickpea production in Ethiopia, a project focused on increasing chickpea yields and helping smallholders get access to markets.

“What’s exciting about this is that in order to manufacture the product, they will buy from smallholders,” said Ertharin Cousin, the U.S. ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture agencies in Rome.

“In those same places you have jobs being created that are off farm jobs that exist for unskilled labor that was previously unemployed. Those are the kinds of collective partnerships that smallholders benefit from and that the private sector helps drive.”

Yet if the Pepsi project is evidence of the increased attention to African agriculture, it also points to a fundamental problem: multinational corporations are able to legitimize their role in agricultural development by devoting their resources to boosting smallholders’ yields. But all this really does is perpetuate the myth that increasing yields will reduce hunger.

In fact, it is the large seed and agrochemical companies that benefit from the narrative that higher yields will solve world hunger—precisely because they can use that narrative to justify their highly technical approaches. These actors are able to gain acceptance by framing their initiatives as “development,” which inherently becomes associated with “goodwill” and “compassion.”

Yet despite the huge gains in productivity throughout the 20th century, there are nearly one billion hungry people in the world today—stark evidence that enhancing yields and ending hunger are not so closely correlated.

To me, this suggests the need for a fundamentally different vision for global agriculture. Most important, food systems must center on the multi-functionality of agriculture: nutrition objectives, rural livelihoods, climate change mitigation, and adaptation.

This vision was precisely emphasized by the International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) — considered the most comprehensive review of the current global agriculture situation. Altogether, IAASTD represents a stark rebuttal to the highly reductionist approaches that assume yields to be the sole factor in improving food security.

However, the U.S. government refused to endorse IAASTD, largely, I suspect, on the basis that the strategies embraced by IAASTD may pose a threat to U.S. economic interests—namely the large seed and agrochemical companies that the U.S. government believes should be beneficiaries of U.S. international development policies.

Thus the U.S. government’s failure to endorse IAASTD essentially says something more broadly about agricultural development: corporations’ agricultural approaches are incompatible with the equitable model of agriculture espoused by IAASTD.

The agricultural transformation needed today should be anchored by “food sovereignty”—the idea that local communities have control over their markets, their farming practices, and their nutritional adequacy. Locally-led agricultural innovations—relying on agro-ecology—should be at the forefront, rather than the technical approaches often propagated by multinationa corporations and the U.S. government. Beyond their inherent environmental sustainability, these local knowledge-based practices are more socially inclusive and pro-poor, in the sense that farmers aren’t dependent on external inputs. One recent effort to spotlight such small farmer-centered food systems can be seen in the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project, focused on sun-Saharan Africa.

“Part of my job with Nourishing the Planet has been to highlight the things that funders and donors don’t know about—the innovations that farmer organizations without fancy websites are doing to prevent soil erosion in Mali, the work being done by Prolinnova in Ethiopia to make sure water gets to crops, the market garden projects in Niger that have helped women boost their incomes from $300 per year to more than $1,500,” Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of the project, told me. “These innovations are overlooked and they have a lot of potential to be replicated and scaled up all over Africa and beyond into Asia, Latin America, and even the United States.”

The challenge now is to redirect agricultural investment away from merely increasing yields and toward the IAASTD report’s idea that agriculture has a wide array of objectives.

“One of the biggest things I learned is that agriculture and farmers are often blamed for things [such as] deforestation and climate change,” Nierenberg said. “I think we’re seeing this shift that agriculture is emerging as a solution to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.”

The shift toward more pro-poor agriculture requires a fundamental rethinking of the neoliberal free market agenda that for decades has dominated the global food system. The result is that food systems are in some cases tailored more toward commodity production than toward guaranteeing food as a human right (this explains why some communities in Africa may export cocoa when they themselves are food insecure). Free market advocates assume that income generation will enable Africans to purchase food produced anywhere, and largely neglect the importance of food self-sufficiency. The fallacy inherent in this ideology came into sharp relief when the 2008 food price spike triggered riots in over 30 countries.

Indeed, the overemphasis on free market agriculture was embedded in European powers’ colonial structures in Africa, according to Macalester College geography professor Bill Moseley.

“The colonial powers in a sense changed local economies from ones largely based on subsistence or engaged in local regional trade, to ones that move away from subsistence production and start producing crops useful to the core powers,” Moseley said. “Related to this was the notion that colonies should be not a burden on imperial powers but be generating enough revenue to be self-sustaining. There was a big push for them to be more export-oriented.”

It appears that African countries’ subordination to Western powers, however, didn’t necessarily come to an end despite the dawn of independence. In response to the debt crisis plaguing many African countries in the 1980s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund implemented structural adjustment programs, forcing African governments to slash their investments in the agriculture sector. “In theory governments had a choice, but if you wanted any access to international credit you had to adhere to this set of reforms—cutting back on government civil service, cuts to social services, and freer trade,” Moseley said.

The pitfalls of the structural adjustment programs have been acknowledged even by the World Bank itself. But at the same time, the ability for corporations such as Pepsi to legitimize their role in agricultural development suggests that the free market agenda underlying structural adjustment is still very much prevalent today.

That’s why we have to embrace a type of agriculture that suits the needs of the world’s poorest. This movement is going to have be bottom-up, led by African smallholder farmers who push their governments to make food a human right.

In November 2008, South Korean company Daewoo Logistics made a deal with Madagascar’s government to lease roughly half of the nation’s agricultural land for the production of corn and palm oil. For the people of poverty-stricken Madagascar, it was intolerable that a foreign company would buy up tracts of their country’s farmland while they remained hungry. Two months later, the government was overthrown, partly due to of popular opposition to the land deal.

This land deal is part of a broader development in which governments and individuals—especially from the Middle East—have been investing in Africa’s farmland in order to feed their own populations. In 2009, for example, global farmland deals involved 110 million acres. Seventy percent of them were in Africa, according to the World Bank.

“The Madagascar case set an immediate negative precedent for these sorts of investments,” Andrew Rice, who authored an article about land deals in the Worldwatch Institute’s “2011 State of the World” report, told DBJ. “After this deal was announced, the government began to wobble and then fell.”

Yet stigmatizing all such land “grabs” is inherently problematic for two reasons. First, the absence of public access to contractual agreements between investors and African governments means that nobody really knows the terms of the deals. Second, Africa is urgently in need of investment in agriculture, given that the continent has suffered from years of neglect by the international community. The 1960s Green Revolution, which boosted crop yields in Asia and in Latin America, never reached Africa, in part because Africa lacked the irrigation essential for the use of high-yielding crop varieties. The result has been Africa’s dependence on foreign food aid and imports, a precarious situation particularly during times of global food crises. In 2008, for example, rising food prices led many countries to impose export bans aimed at ensuring food security for their domestic populations—a contributing factor to why millions more Africans were thrust into poverty. Thus, the new wave of private investment in Africa’s agricultural land presents an opportunity to strengthen the continent’s food security, as long as it’s done responsibly and equitably.

“A lot of the debate thus far has been driven by ideology and assumptions on the part of ideological organizations that these deals must be unfair to Africa,” Rice said. “The danger is lumping together legitimate private investment with exploitation. That’s a very delicate dance that World Bank and other international organizations are trying to do right now. They want to encourage private investment.”

Given legitimate concerns that outside investors may ship all crops to their own countries, the burden is on African governments to ensure that the land deals don’t undermine local food security. According to World Bank economist Klaus Deininger, African governments should connect outside investment with a national agenda that prioritizes food security. Governments could solidify such an approach by setting criteria for outside investments and permitting only those investments that guarantee that a certain amount of the food they produce will be devoted to local consumption.

Such emphasis on production for the local population is particularly important as a buffer against a global food crisis. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter, the contractual agreements between investors and African governments should stipulate that investors sell a higher percentage of their crops to the local market during periods when high global food prices might otherwise render food unaffordable for many Africans.

This private investment is by no means a substitute for African governments’ own investment in the agricultural sector. The perils of government absence from agriculture are painfully evident in the famine that struck Ethiopia in 2003, as Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman write in Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty. The World Bank had insisted that African governments remove their investments in agriculture, insisting that such a task was the job of the private sector. Yet in Ethiopia, the private sector was underdeveloped; despite the huge crop yields experienced by Ethiopian farmers in 2002, the country was missing an efficient market to absorb those yields. For example, the lack of storage facilities meant that farmers’ surplus yields flooded the market, driving down prices so low that farmers curtailed their farming operations because they would have had to sell their crops well below the cost of production. Furthermore, no network was in place to transfer crops from highly productive agricultural regions to less arable areas.

International institutions, while unable to actually regulate land deals, can certainly play a role in influencing their implementation. The best example so far is the concept of the voluntary “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment,” developed by groups including the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The key principles include regard for local people’s land rights, food security, and environmental sustainability. These principles don’t necessarily try to suggest that outside investment is the only option for African agriculture; rather, they should be viewed as an attempt to guide a land deals trend that cannot actually be prevented.

Indeed, an effort to guide investor behavior is not the only way that international institutions can contribute to a fair implementation of land deals. Rice said that the World Bank and UN, given their global influence, can encourage African governments to negotiate favorable deals for their countries. They can inform the governments that not all crops should be produced for export and that the deals can achieve food security for both the investor’s country and the African country.

Overall, it is most useful for policymakers and academics concerned about land deals to position themselves in ways that allow them to constructively influence the debate. But to completely demonize the land deals is to eliminate one’s ability to contribute to the dialogue on an inevitable phenomenon.