By Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi
That Africa is endowed with very large and dynamic agro-ecological zones is a globally accepted fact. Many countries in Africa have excellent climate needed to grow food and cash crops- adequate annual rainfall; sunlight and rich soil are tremendous agro-assets in Africa. Africa has vast arable land across the continent, energetic populace, oceans, rivers and lakes in various parts. The continent’s economy largely depends on agriculture, more than 60 percent of Africans live in rural areas and more than 32 percent of Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture. In the 1970s, agriculture played significant roles in the economy of many African nations, employing more than 80 percent and contributing 8 percent to world food export- a figure that has dropped to 2 percent.
Despite these numerous potentials, Africa has been unable to feed herself, ensure food security, create wealth and jobs through agriculture. Currently, the continent spends $35 billion annually importing food items that could have been produced on her own soil and by her own people; if nothing is done, this figure is expected to rise to $110 billion in 2025. There is a noticeable decline in the sector- yields are poor compared to results obtained in other parts of the world, risks are increasing without mitigation, innovation and technology are not quickly adopted, access to agric funding is close to impossible, infrastructural deficit and market irregularities, post-harvest loss management, lack of value addition among others are major hindrances.
Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050; this implies that there would be more mouth to feed. Unemployment is increasing very fast; at least 14 million jobs must be created on the continent to reduce youth unemployment to the barest minimum. The Africa food sector is expected to hit $1 trillion in 2030, to make this a reality, Africa must practically position itself for progress. It is not about reinventing the wheels but connecting the dots to create results.
Africa’s Agro Commodities
Africa produces numerous agro-commodities that can create decent jobs and feed her populace- cocoa, coffee, tea, cassava,cashew, avocado, soybeans, palm kernel, maize, yam, potato, vegetables, mango, and orange to mention few. Unfortunately, Africa has not been able to harness these potentials and utilize them as tools to solve her problems of unemployment, hunger, food insecurity and wealth creation.
It is no longer news that over 70 percent of world cocoa production comes from Africa with Ivory Coast leading the global cocoa production chain; however, Africa only has 2 percent of the $110 billion worth global chocolate industry. Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, producing over 50 million metric tonnes per annum; despite this, Nigeria imports over 400 million litres of ethanol annually which could have been produced from cassava harvested locally.
Surrounded by the ocean, many African nations still import salt, both for industrial and home uses. Nigeria for example spends over $700 million importing salt. With coffee originating from Ethiopia, spreading across the beautiful East Africa- Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda coffee are globally recognized to be of best quality. However, this commodity are exported from Africa in its raw form (green coffee beans), roasted, well packaged and sold for a premium. While all global coffee giants are non-African companies, African farmers live in poverty and governments keep staggering in revenue generation and jobs creation.
There’s huge infrastructural deficit in many countries across Africa. Lack of stable and affordable energy has made it expensive for agro-processing projects to thrive at small, medium or industrial scale. Transportation of farm produce to market is difficult due to poor rural-urban roads. Poor communication network in farm settlements hinder farmers from learning and accessing market and produce information necessary for their improvement.
Due to huge infrastructural deficit, the risk attached to agriculture in Africa is higher than what is obtainable in other parts of the world. This increases post-harvest loss as over 50 percent of farm produce gets damaged before they are arrive the market. The high risk has also discouraged financial institutions from lending to farmers or agric related projects, because the projects are vulnerable to failure.
Agricultural practices in Africa are old and not changing despite scientific and technological developments in seed varieties, soil preparations, land clearing, crop maintenance and harvest systems in order to improve yields. While yield per hectare of food crops in developed world has increased, yield per hectare in Africa is staggering. The techniques used to cultivate the soil are still far behind from what has been adopted in Asia and Americas, lacking not only irrigation, but also fertilisers, pesticides and access to high-yield seeds. Farmers do not have access to knowledge about best practices to improve their productivity while staying efficient.
Low Value Addition
Despite being largest producer of cocoa, the chocolate industry is noticeably dominated by non-African companies; despite being large producer of coffee, the global coffee brands are non-African businesses; despite being largest producer of cassava, the global producers of starch, ethanol, cassava chips and HQCF are non-African businesses. Value addition efforts are low, this equally keeps revenue and job opportunities low.
Policies that will boost productivity and profitability of agriculture on the continent are largely missing. Policies in the areas of farm land acquisition, taxes cuts/holiday for agribusinesses, agric insurance, risk mitigation, incentive based initiatives, innovations and technology transfers.
Right policies are needed to facilitate growth in Africa’s agric sector. Policies that will enhance agro-commodity trading, ease of doing agribusiness, risk mitigation, and access to credit facilities should be put in place by the government.
Selling agric produce as raw material will not make Africa richneither will it create jobs. Africa will remain poor without value addition; raw materials should be processed into final goods. This will also reduce post-harvest loss.
Investment in Knowledge
Knowledge is crucial to raising productivity in agriculture- investment in knowledge, research and development about best practices, seed varieties, improved technologies e.t.c. Trainings and capacity building exercises should be encouraged regularly to upgrade knowledge.
Infrastructural development is essential to agricultural growth in Africa- the right infrastructure must be put in place. Rural-urban road networks must be fixed; energy and communication infrastructures must be put in place in farm settlements at affordable rates. Infrastructure is bedrock of agricultural development.
Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi is founder of JR Farms Africa and can be reached via mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and +2348105508224