Technology, innovation needed to drive agricultural revolution in Africa

31/10/2016
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The African Development Bank’s agenda for transforming Africa’s agriculture was lauded at the 5th KOAFEC Ministerial Conference held in Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

The Bank recognises the potential of Africa to become a global powerhouse in food and agribusiness, lifting millions out of poverty. For this potential to be realized, the continent has to undergo an agricultural revolution. At a session on the Status of Africa's Agriculture and Challenges for Structural Transformation and Industrialization, Celestin Monga, Chief Economist and Vice-President at the AfDB, demonstrated the link between industrialisation and agricultural revolution.

“Modern day industry would not have been possible without the agricultural revolution that preceded it. Thus, economies in which agriculture is stagnant do not show industrial development,” he noted.

The low levels of mechanization on the continent, as well as poor utilization of modern inputs and other forms of agriculture technology have inhibited growth of agriculture, the Chief Economist said. Statistics indicate that many countries have fewer than 20,000 tractors in use per 100 square kilometres of land. Similarly, there is limited adoption of modern inputs such as fertilizers, improved seeds, and agro-chemicals, with majority of countries using less than 80 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare of arable land.

Korea shared lessons of how it revamped its agriculture sector using improved technology and innovation, coupled with mechanised farming. As a country which experienced rice shortage of up to 20 percent in the 1950s and early 1960s, and which relied on the United States for food aid in the 1950s, Korea’s new methods of transformation saw it turnaround its agriculture, significantly improving rice production.

“With technological innovation, Korea developed a new rice variety in 1966. This resulted in increased rice production, 80 percent higher than the average yield of a Korean farmer before the technology,” said Duk-Hoon Lee, President of Korea Eximbank. The country achieved self-sufficiency of rice in 1977. Its national average yield per 10 acre piece of land in 1977 was 494 kilograms; higher than the world record of 447 kilograms per 10 acre set earlier by Japan.

African Ministers present at the forum expressed optimism about the potential for the transformation of Africa’s agriculture, saying: “If Korea did it, so must Africa.” They identified the need for training and capacity building of youth in modern agriculture methods, citing the importance of agriculture in employment creation. “There is a youth bulge in Africa. We need to make agriculture interesting and encourage our youth to venture into agriculture,” stated Eugene Wamalwa, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

The AfDB’s “Jobs for Youth Initiative” is expected to create 25 million jobs by 2025. Among other things, the initiative puts special emphasis on the agricultural sector.