AFRICA’S FARMING POTENTIAL HINGES ON INFRASTRUCTURE BOOST
Africa’s huge agricultural
potential holds the promise of covering much of the planet’s
nutrition needs, but the continent is hampered by lack of
infrastructure and intricate local politics.
In an effort to respond to the global
food security issue, agribusinesses have expanded their activities in the
developing world, with a special focus on Africa’s rich soils.
The move is seen with suspicion
by environmental campaigners, which warn that turning to
a Western type agri-food production model will only increase farmers’
dependence, leading them to long-term deadlock.
poverty and rising population
The economy of the Sub-Saharan Africa
(SSA) region has seen remarkable improvements over the past decades.
figuresshow that the
number of people living on less than $1.25 a day, has declined by 23%
between 1993 and 2015.
According to the latest estimates
in the2015 State of
Food Insecurity in the World, hunger in the region declined by 31%
in the period 1990-2015, by no means a small achievement. Today, approximately
one out of four persons in SSA is estimated to be undernourished, considerably
less than in the 1980s.
But the food and farming conundrum in
Sub-Saharan Africa is far from being solved. First, the region is
challenged with rapid population growth which affects the ability to ensure
stable supply and access to food.
Second, Sub-Saharan Africa’s current
population is 800 million and its economy remains deeply rooted in traditional
farming. Agriculture employed 62% of the population and generated 27% of
GDP in the region in 2005.
Smallholder farms, defined as being two
hectares or less are dominant in the region’s agriculture model. According to
estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO),
80% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is managed by smallholders working
on up to 10 hectares.
The issue does not only concern Africa.
On a global level, theUN says more than 90% of the 570
million farms worldwide are managed by an individual or a family, producing
more than 80% of the world’s food.
Scientists have warned that in order to
prevent a food crisis, pre-emptive measures should be taken to make these
small-scale farms sustainable while avoiding intensive resource use.
To help meet those goals, the
10-year-old Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) focuses on
smallholder farms to meet the various environmental challenges of the region,
like seed production and soil health. A further objective is to open up a
rich agriculture market which has been neglected all these years.
It brings together public and private
sector working directly with African farmers, businesses, and governments.
AGRA argues that it has helped African
farmers increase their production, resulting in direct household consumption
and surpluses for the market.
According to AGRA’s 2015 report, in 2015
smallholder households produced about 3.4 million additional metric tons of
cereals, soybeans and groundnuts for their own consumption as well as 1.5
million metric tons surplus for the market.
“Over the past nine years, AGRA and its
partners have worked across 18 sub-Saharan African countries to deliver a set
of solutions that have reached 18.2 million farm families,” AGRA’s Dr Richard
Jones told EurActiv.com.
However, many challenges still lie
ahead, mainly on a logistical level.
According to Dr Jones, the rapid
population increase and high rates of urbanisation have exacerbated the
need to increase local production through increased productivity.
“Local growth and development will come
about not only from production but from aggregation, transport and value
addition. The volumes required to meet the growing food requirements cannot be
met by imports alone for the simple reason that the existing infrastructure is
already challenged,” he stressed.
He added that the large
numbers of widely-dispersed smallholder farmers who are poorly organised
make it hard to deliver services and productivity-improving technologies
on the input side.
“The costs of aggregating small
quantities of surplus production from these widely dispersed smallholder
farmers is logistically challenging,” he said, adding that the high costs of
transport often make locally-produced grain more expensive than the imported
Another problem for smallholder farmers
is the lack of access to productivity enhancing technologies such
as quality seeds of superior varieties, mineral fertilisers, and crop
“The limited number of commercial seed
companies, inappropriate government policies hindering the release of
farmer-preferred varieties, lack of enforcement in quality control, and limited
support for commercial distribution systems are some of the reasons,” he noted.
Attempts to overcome these myriad
of local obstacles have focused on the creation of local
transportation and distribution corridors.
One of them is the Southern Agricultural
Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT),
an agricultural multi-stakeholder partnership between the Tanzanian government,
agri-corporations, donors, and NGOs.
Its main objective is to develop the
region’s potential including productivity, food security and livelihoods and
achieve a “Green Revolution” in Tanzania.
Initiated at the World Economic Forum
Africa summit in May 2010, several stakeholders try to go beyond raising
agricultural productivity and attract investments in several areas – roads,
electricity, policy reform – to create an efficient and well-functioning agricultural
Oslo-based fertiliser company Yara
recently invested $25 million in a terminal in Tanzania and wants the country
to become a national and regional hub for fertiliser distribution.
Yara currently supplies 120,000 tons of fertiliser annually to the East
African region, including through a network of distribution outlets across
Environmentalist NGOs, however, are
concerned about such activities in Africa.
Greenpeace EU agriculture policy
director Marco Contiero told EurActiv that G8 governments’ investments in
developing countries’ agriculture, such as via the New Alliance for Food
Security and Nutrition in Africa (NAFSN), have indicated that they operate in
close contact with the private sector.
“This has, for instance, led country
beneficiaries of international funds to modify or put in place biosafety
legislation to set up the right legal framework allowing agro-chemical
companies to market their patented seeds.”
He said that instead of external
inputs such as seeds, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, the focus
of governments should be on the actual needs of the population, “namely
building infrastructures, storage facilities and irrigation systems”.
“These countries do not need (GM) seeds,
even if it is true that they have very poor quality seeds, but their problem is
that they don’t have silos to store their harvests, nor streets to bring their
harvest to the market, nor functional markets where to sell their products”.
“This sends a very worrying signal,” the
Greenpeace activist said, underlining that focusing Africa’s development on
input-dependent agriculture is the “opposite of sustainable”.
The agri-food industry’s activities in
Africa often come under environmentalist NGOs scrutiny.
One recent example is the British
company Agrica which received millions in support from international aid donors
to establish an industrial rice plantation in Tanzania as part of a SAGCOT
According to aresearchby
The Oakland Institute in collaboration with Greenpeace Africa and Global
Justice Now, the project had a devastating impacts on local communities.
“Although Agrica is portrayed as a
responsible investment venture, its takeover of fertile land has brought misery
to local communities,” Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland
She claimed that smallholders were
forced off the land, received meagre compensation for their losses, and had to
face debts resulting from doing business with Agrica.
sent by Agrica, denying the accusations.