In the middle of failing and succeeding- What’s the future of farming in Africa?
It is well known that Agriculture has always been a lifeboat for the world. People can’t survive without food since it is farming that provides food. A hoe was introduced long ago, making it probably one of the oldest and most essential farming tools that Africans use in their everyday lives. In most African cultures, a hoe is a sign of prosperity, which is, for a fact, a tool that 70% of the African population uses daily for survival. However, the continent’s share of agricultural export accounts for 2% (Veras, 2017) even though Africa occupies 60% of the world’s arable land (Citypress, 2018). Would it be because of the capacity and efficiency of this tool? Well, this tool translates to a farmer.
Despite the evolution of Agriculture’s technology, many farmers have not managed to cope with such changes, which has led agriculture to remain backward in Africa. The green revolution came as a breakthrough in boosting agricultural productivity but came with some trade-offs harmful to the environment. Sub-saharan countries did not embrace this system because we were not ready, thus ending up somewhat failing. Africa needed to do something with climate change, policy, and infrastructure before implementing the GR agenda, which Asia and South American countries managed to do.
As opposed to the nature of agriculture today, farmers tend to invest little in their farming activities with total dependence on rainwater that conclusively deprives them of making money. Irrigation and controlled agriculture environments are necessary for today’s farming more than ever due to the prevalence of crop diseases and pests, heavy rainfall and prolonged drought, and disaster outbreaks. All this poses a threat to agriculture hence requiring other interventions for further mitigation. Only 5% of the cultivated land is covered less than 38% of Asia (Veras, 2017). You could easily anticipate the impact of drought on the remaining land area, and drought remains a single most common cause of food shortage and malnutrition affecting dimensions of food security, namely availability, stability, access, and utilization (reliefweb, 2011). Climate change is no longer a scam, as some people believe it to be because the world is experiencing tragic climate change. This changing climate change is pushing the world in a dilemma of acting upon our old systems to decide the right thing. Climate change calls for a need to shift from rain-dependent to irrigated agriculture to improve farmers’ yield and income.
The Quest of governance and policy
The agriculture sector was the least priority area for most of the African countries in the last decades. But now, the African governments are beginning to revamp the agriculture systems to ensure sustainable future farming practices guaranteeing food security and improved livelihood. However, there is still a long way to go due to financial constraints amongst the practitioners and the African governments. However, there is room to question some governments for not making Africa one of the priority areas. During the 2003 Maputo declaration, African states agreed to allocate 10 percent of the budgets to agriculture (ActionAid International, 2013). Yet, the average budget allocation falls at 5% (ActionAid International, 2013). Allocation failure prevents agriculture infrastructure from advancing, resulting in a lot of constraints along the value chain. Smallholder farmers will never reach a self-sustaining stage to afford to buy substantial resources to adapt to the changing climate without the states’ efforts to invest in agriculture. Farmers will not afford to build roads, acquire machinery, and access funding! When are the farmers going to invest in irrigation systems to stop depending on rainwater? The solution lies in the hands of our states.
Moreover, policies are not correctly fitting the farmers’ social and economic situation. The value chain is crooked with unstable market systems putting farmers’ profitability at stake. The focus of our governments lies in boosting agricultural productivity and sometimes leaves behind food security, especially in farmers’ households. A smallholder farmer who invests his time and energy will lose most of his profit if no market policy environment protects him. Agricultural productivity boost will only improve the economic conditions of farmers when there is a supportive policy environment.
Infrastructure is the key
Because of the sensitive nature of agricultural products (perishable and difficult-to-store products), electrification, cold chains, roads, storage buildings, and processing plants are necessary to develop value chains in Africa (Fatima, 2018). With 80% of the farmland being managed by smallholder farmers, there will be some issues such as logistics to carry their stuff to the market resulting in very high transportation and transaction costs. Surprisingly, 30-50% of production gets lost at various points along the value chain in sub-Saharan Africa (Deloitte, 2015). Such an amount of food loss can feed millions of Africans suffering from malnutrition. These issues are deeply rooted in poor rural infrastructure since agricultural production takes place mostly in rural areas. Such problems bring me back to the willingness of African states to develop agriculture by improving the budget. If there is less enthusiasm to put agriculture at the heart of our nations’ business, infrastructure is far from improving. The investors won’t come to invest in agribusiness and agriculture processing when the infrastructure environment and policy environment are not conducive.
What’s the future of farming?
It is arguably fair to say that the green revolution’s success was not as successful on the continent as Asia due to infrastructural and policy issues. But due to its adverse effects on health and environment, we can not adopt it for the future continent’s farming practices.
Some people believe that biotechnology is the future of agriculture in Africa. Genetically modified crops will require a lot of investments, and farmers might not afford genetically modified seeds. Nevertheless, it is indeed the future of farming in Africa. But before that, our states should lay a proper groundwork to enable genetically modified crops to succeed. Without good road infrastructure, improved market systems, and agriculture investments, any other system considered fruitful will likely fail.
Therefore, the success of farming will depend entirely on the policies that adequately support farmers, the infrastructure necessary to thrive, and investments in research. Then, any system that might come in the future will build on the set foundation.
ActionAid International. (2013). Annual Report 2013 – ActionAid International. [online] Available at: https://actionaid.org/publications/2014/annual-report-2013-actionaid-international [Accessed 3 Mar. 2020].
CityPress. (2018). ’60 % of arable land is in Africa and it has billions in investment potential’. [online] Available at: https://city-press.news24.com/Business/60-of-arable-land-is-in-africa-and-it-has-billions-in-investment-potential-20181109 [Accessed 3 Mar. 2020].
Deloitte. (2015). [ebook] Johannesburg: Reducing Food Loss Along African Agricultural Value Chains, p.2. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/za/Documents/consumer-business/ZA_FL1_ReducingFoodLossAlongAfricanAgriculturalValueChains.pdf [Accessed 3 Mar. 2020].
Fatima, M. (2018). Agricultural Investment in Africa: A Low Level… Numerous Opportunities. Policy Center for the New South. Retrieved 30 April 2020, from https://www.policycenter.ma/publications/agricultural-investment-africa-low-level%E2%80%A6-numerous-opportunities.
Marzo, J. (2020). Emiten declaratoria de desastre natural a 68 municipios de Veracruz. [online] POSTA. Available at: https://www.posta.com.mx/veracruz/emite-declaratoria-de-desastre-natural-68-municipios-de-veracruz [Accessed 5 Mar. 2020].
ReliefWeb. (2011). Drought‐related food insecurity: A focus on the Horn of Africa – Djibouti. [online] Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/djibouti/drought%E2%80%90related-food-insecurity-focus-horn-africa [Accessed 3 Mar. 2020].
Veras, O. (2017). Agriculture in Africa: Potential versus reality. [online] How We Made It In Africa. Available at: https://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/agriculture-africa-potential-versus-reality/57635/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2020].
Do you consider Genetically modified seeds to apply at with level of farmer? do see a good future health of smallholder farmer in the era of GMs?
I was just bringing up how the future (possibly in 10+ years), GM seeds will be out there for the farmers to use. The same ways as the government implemented Green revolution, I guess GM seeds will also be introduced. But, my main argument is to accommodate farmers in the policies, infrastructure, and any other thing that would impact them.
I don’t see agricultural development if smallholder farmers are not supported by the government. Do you expect good future health of smallholder farmers in the era of GMs?
Maybe you haven’t understood the points I was trying to raise. I said that a better future for farmers is a future where farmers are not left behind policywise, developing infrastructure, and crafting of market systems. The green revolution did not reach the anticipated success like that happened in South America and Asia due to not laying a solid ground like enacting policies, improving infrastructure, re-designing how they access to market, even having a limited view on how farmers will access inputs. With proven negative effects of GR on the environment, we should embrace GM crops but grounded with policies and infrastructure and everything I said that will enable farmers to adopt it and apply it and increase the yield.
what do you think about agritech?
Agritech is definitely going to be employed in Africa in the future. But policies will make it reach the farmers deep in the village.