The sixth annual African Economic Forum (AEF), "From Assets to Action--Unmasking Africa's Diverse Resources in a Challenging Era," was held on March 28-29, 2009, to foster a public discussion to highlight opportunities and challenges and explore insights and strategies for Africa. This year, AEF--the largest Africa-focused event at Columbia University--was hosted jointly by the SIPA Pan-African Network (SPAN) at the School of International and Public Affairs, the African Business Club (ABC) at Columbia Business School and the African Law Students Association (ALSA) at Columbia Law School. In the panel "Mobilizing Africa's Agricultural Resources," researchers and practitioners discussed strategies to transform agriculture as the engine of development in Africa. The panel was moderated by David Browning, head of the global coffee practice at TechnoServe, and featured Christopher Aluah, agricultural coordinator/farming for the Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana (YHFG); Gary Toenniessen, PhD, managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation; Ibrahima Camara, rural development specialist at USAID Guinea; and Regina Birner, PhD, senior research fellow in the development strategy and governance division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). (For more on the 2009 African Economic Forum, visit http://sipa.columbia.edu/aef.)
Over the past decade, the international development community focused on infrastructure, health and education as the solution to poverty. For the first time since the 1980s, agriculture has been placed firmly at the forefront of the global development agenda. The World Bank's World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development called for greater investment in agriculture in developing countries. It highlighted agriculture's potential for reducing poverty, ensuring food security, providing environmental services and functioning as an engine of growth, all of which are extremely relevant to the challenges Africa faces today.