Unlocking Africa’s agricultural potential

A farmer watering maize
A farmer at his small-scale maize farm- Courtesy Photo

“African countries should massively invest in agricultural sector and put in place market and production incentives to stimulate agricultural production if they are to attain rural transformation, and uplift their people from poverty cycles, in which majority of them are trapped in,” says Bernard Bashaasha, an Associate Professor and agricultural expert from Makerere University.

Our mother land Africa, is abundantly and richly endowed with renewable and non-renewable natural resources that can, if well utilized in a stable micro and macro economic environment, be used to effectively uplift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty predicament, in which they are in.

It is so sad that despite having rich natural resources, Africa still remains the poorest continent in the world and lags behind other continents in all aspects of development.

 Besides, being a home of over 50 per cent of world’s remaining arable land, Africa, is also blessed with good climate, green vegetation, cool temperatures, various water bodies like lakes and rivers and also receives moderate rain year in and out, which are all vital for stimulating agricultural development, but surprisingly millions of continental citizens, goes to bed on an empty stomach everyday.

In countries such as northern part of Ethiopia, northern Kenya, Somalia, Karamoja region-Uganda, Eritrea, Nigeria’s Delta and northern region and among others, millions of children have and are persistently suffering from Kwashakor and other diseases emanating from poor feeding. Many of these children have lost and are loosing their lives due to poor feeding.

In Uganda, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries report 2009, out of an estimated population of 34 million people, 17.7 million people are food insecure.

In other African countries, the situation is even worse; this is a big challenge which African countries should systematically confront by developing and implementing agricultural stimulation and development strategies.

Let us not forget that agriculture is a key sector in Africa which significantly contributes to about 40 percent to the overall continental GDP, and is also employing about 80 percent of the continental citizens, majority of whom dwells in villages.

If African countries are to improve the rural incomes, rural dwellers livelihood, house hold food and nutrition, they have got to start devoting a big percentage of their national budgets in promoting agricultural development.

In most African countries, the colonial land laws are still in place. During the colonial times, the kings who collaborated with colonialists were given hundreds of square miles of land which they shared freely according to their wish with their loyalists and linage family members at the detrimental of others.

 For instance when you travel across Kingdom communities in Africa, you will witness squares miles of lands unutilized simply because it belongs to the King or Kingdom. The King is the one to have a final say on how that land should be used, besides the traditional land tenure systems are still in existence in many African communities. All these are obstacle to agricultural development in the continent.

African countries should urgently revise their land laws, design and implement land use policies, that is agricultural transformational oriented, and land tenure systems improving these policies should clearly define how the land should be owned, utilized, in which capacity, for what purpose and in which time frame.

 If the current scenario whereby multinational companies from the west and Asia especially China and India, backed by their governments, are increasingly, acquiring large tracts of land in Africa for biofuel production is not stopped or properly regulated, Africa will increasingly continue to be food insecure.

 Organic food stuffs are currently on high demand globally due to their health benefits to the human body. In fact, in North America, Europe, Asia, and in many food selling outlets in Africa and South America, organic food products are priced higher than the processed ones. African countries should do everything to promote organic farming than never before.

Agriculture sector in Africa is dominated by small scale farmers who constitute over 70 per cent of the people engaged in the sector. They should heavily invest in establishment of organic fertilizer production centers which should be widely spread across their regions to enable farmers’ access fertilizers to use in keeping their soil fertile for greater agricultural output. In every African country, there should be a movement on the compost production.

 As a farmer and a person who extensively works in helping African small scale farmers improve their farm yields, I have for years observed that helping farmers with improved seed varieties for planting, greatly makes farmers to harvests more from their farms, and this besides enabling them to become food secure in their homes, also makes them to improve on their household incomes, as extra outputs are sold.

 African countries and organizations working in agricultural sector, must establish seed production centers and seed banks, well spread in all their regions to enable farmers always access improved seed varieties for planting at a fair price.

 As the situation is today, millions of small scale farmers in the continent are lacking access to improved seed varieties for planting — this is increasingly making them to remain poor and food insecure as yields from their farms are terribly low.

 Sustainable production of seed varieties will only be possible by building capacity of agricultural researchers engaged in researching about various crops like rice, wheat, cassava, banana, maize, wheat, and among others.

 There should also be institutional building of soil scientists. African countries must urgently start handsomely funding their agricultural researchers and in training many more others, and also put in place mechanisms to ensure that the researched information, is always timely disseminated to the farmers.

This should also be accompanied with training of more agricultural extension workers, which is a big challenge today as the gap to farmers’ ratio, which today stands at about 1:1,000 in most African countries, is too wide and needs to be reduced.

 Agricultural mechanization should be embraced. There are so many sparsely populated areas in Africa where farmers have large chunks of land but they are not effectively utilizing it because they lack machines like tractors and other agricultural implements to use in tilling their lands.

To overcome this problem, every African country should establish an agricultural development bank, dedicated mainly on advancing interest free loans to farmers to enable them acquire those machines. The loans will enable the farmers to sustainably purchase improved seed varieties and fertilizers.

Farmers will also be able to afford establishing storage facilities and to acquire post-harvest handling technologies. This will greatly help them to overcome wastage, which according to research, is making them to loose, 40 per cent perishable goods, 20-30 per cent semi perishable goods, and 5-15 per cent nonperishable goods.

With all the fresh water lakes, rivers and tributaries the continent is endowed with, it should systematically begin funding the establishment and use of low cost and large scale irrigation systems to make its farmers stop depending on rain fed agriculture, which is increasingly becoming unreliable due to effects of climate change. As we speak today, climate change is significantly reducing farm yields across the continent.

 In sum, Africa’s agricultural potential is unquestionable. This coupled with the fact, global food prices are skyrocketing, and will according to my projections, continue to skyrocket. Governments should rise up and start to motivate African countries to invest more in agriculture than never before so as to reap big from this global trend.

By Moses Hategeka, Ugandan based independent governance researcher, public affairs analyst and Kampala Dispatch contributor

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