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WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) - Africa's agricultural sector could become a $1 trillion industry by 2030 if governments and the private sector radically rethink policies and support for farmers, a World Bank report said on Monday.
Africa's food market, currently valued at $313 billion a year, could triple if farmers modernized their practices and had better access to credit, new technology, irrigation and fertilizers, according to the new report "Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness."
The World Bank said African farmers have a unique opportunity to tap into growing demand from a burgeoning middle class with more expensive tastes, an expected four-fold increase in urban supermarkets in Africa and higher commodity prices.
Rice, poultry, dairy, vegetable oils, horticulture, feed grains and processed foods for local markets were likely to be the most dynamic areas of agribusiness in Africa, the World Bank said.
"Africa is now at a crossroads, from which it can take concrete steps to realize its potential or continue to lose competitiveness, missing a major opportunity for increased growth, employment, and food security," the report said.
Despite a decade of strong economic growth and a surge in private sector investment in the region, Africa's share of global agriculture exports has fallen. Countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand export more agriculture products than all of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Bank said.
Meanwhile, the region is home to more than 50 percent of the world's uncultivated agriculture land, with as much as 450 million hectares that is not forested, protected or densely populated, the report said.
The Bank said boosting agriculture should become the top priority of governments so that farmers can take advantage of the increase in global demand for food and higher prices.
They should also look at ways to boost regional integration to promote more cross-border food trade by reducing check points, tackling bribery along main freight corridors, and cutting bureaucratic red tape and transaction costs. Harvests routinely yield far less than their potential and food is often spoilt because of poor storage facilities, it added.
But while there is a need to expand agriculture across Africa, the World Bank warned there needs to be careful analysis and governments should guard against land grabs for investment.
The 2008-2009 global food price crisis prompted a scramble for land in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and widespread fears of land grabbing. Madagascar's president was toppled in 2009 after he negotiated a deal with a South Korean company to lease half the island's arable land to grow food and ship it to Asia.
"The challenge is to harness investors' interest in ways that generate jobs, provide opportunities for smallholders, respect the rights of local communities, and protect the environment," the report said.
"A key challenge is to curb speculative land investments or acquisitions that take advantage of weak institutions in African countries or disregard principles of responsible agricultural investment," it added. (Reporting By Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Andrea Ricci)