Africa, the last agriculture frontier

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IN ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ report in 2017, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pointed out that the number of hungry people worldwide was increasing.  

In fact, it increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016 – worldwide, one-in-10 people go hungry everyday.  

Although much progress has been reported globally in terms of extreme poverty, the population living on less than US$1,90 (R28) a day declined from 44 percent in 1980 to under 10 percent by 2015, the war on global hunger is not over yet according to the World Bank (WB).

But these statistics are not new. What of 2021, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage the world?

Climate change is worsening the situation, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that, by 2050, Africa will be home to an additional 38 million hungry people due to climate change.

The challenges facing the world require focused and compassionate leadership.  

We owe it to ourselves, and to generations to come, to use every opportunity we have to make the world a better place.  

Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), said: “Addressing issues of agriculture and food security in Africa is critical, not only to economic development across the continent, but to the future of food production worldwide over the next decades.”

The African Continent holds 65 percent of the uncultivated arable land left to feed nine billion people by 2050. 

Consequently, the future of food security in the world will depend on what Africa achieves in agriculture.   

Africa’s vast savannas are the world’s largest agriculture frontier, estimated at 400 million hectares; but only 10 percent of this area is cultivated. 

Therefore, there is categorically no reason for Africa to be food insecure; it should be the breadbasket of the world.  

 In fact, in 1990, Zimbabwe was awarded the United Nations ‘Award for the End of Hunger’ when the moniker ‘Bread Basket of Africa’ became the catch phrase.  

With the continent’s estimated 60 million farms, Africa currently spends US$35 billion (R500 billion) a year on importing food.

Unlocking the enormous potential of its agriculture should be at the top of the global food security agenda.

Africa accounts for 75 percent of global cocoa production, yet receives only two percent of the global US$100 billion annual revenues from chocolate. 

This is because Africa exports only raw cocoa beans. 

This pattern is the same for other commodities of which Africa is a major producer. 

According to the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB): “…It is time for Africa to move to the top of global food value chains through agro-industrialisation and adding value to all it produces….”

Poor nations are exporting their produce as raw materials. 

While demand for raw commodities is flexible, demand for processed and value-added commodities is relatively inflexible.  

Africa’s reliance on exporting raw commodities exposes it to the high variability and instability of global commodity prices.

Such external commodity price instabilities continued to negatively affect African economies, creating domestic fiscal and balance of payment deficits that have led to inflation, currency devaluations and a decline in public expenditure.

African countries need policies that will unlock the enormous potential of their vast resources, as well as agricultural commodities, by developing agricultural value chains and agro-allied industries that process and add value to them. 

This will allow farmers, especially rural and women farmers, to be more competitive in global value chains and raise their incomes, instead of being caught at the bottom of the value chain.

Most countries in Africa are at an early stage of institutional and scientific maturity. Increasing the rate of growth of agriculture is especially important in poor countries where food accounts for 40-50 percent of family expenditure and two-thirds of the population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture and the rural economy for their livelihoods. Therefore, to realise its agricultural potential, Africa, including Zimbabwe, must utilise all it has, that is smallholders, as well as medium and large-scale commercial farms.

African agrarian systems should support more dynamic and market-oriented agriculture with a commercial focus for economic development, food-security and poverty reduction. Technology now exists to achieve a green revolution in Africa, but is underutilised.

According to Dr Adesina, We have to expand the production possibilities for smallholder farmers, remove the binding constraints around them, including limited access to technology, markets, infrastructure as well as finance, and make agriculture the source of their livelihood. 

The smallholder farming sector should be a wealth-creating sector, not a sector for perpetuating generational poverty and misery.

Resilient and water-efficient new maize varieties allow farmers to harvest good yields in the face of moderate drought. Today’s rice varieties can yield 8t/ha while cassava varieties can yield up to 80t/ha.

We need to harness available technologies, engage the right institutional memory and expertise as well as apply the right policies to rapidly raise agricultural productivity and farm incomes. 

This will ensure more food and lower food prices for consumers in Zimbabwe.

Extensive and intensive, economic and agro-technical support in local rural development is crucial for rural poverty reduction in Africa. 

The extent of rural poverty in Africa is unacceptable.  

In Zimbabwe, rural farmers account for 70-80 percent of maize production, yet they contribute less than 55 percent to the national GDP.  

Where is the unresolved matrix? 

Where are our Zimbabwean agricultural professionals, agronomists, agro-scouts, veterinarians, citriculture specialists, horticulturalists, seed developers and growers as well as genomic experts? 

It is important to seriously tackle the underdevelopment and educational instruction in these areas where the majority of marginalised people, including women and children live, and women carry out the bulk of the work. 

Agriculture, today, is a business and must be treated as one to unlock its wealth potential. The food and agri-business market in Africa has been projected at US$1 trillion by 2030.  

The rural areas should be transformed into zones of economic prosperity. It must start with agriculture and the food industry. 

A revitalised and stronger strategic alliance has been called for by Dr Adesina, between the ADB, the UN’s FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and WFP to unleash the vast potential of agriculture as a business across Africa, including Zimbabwe. 

Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field.  For comments e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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