Although Africa has a large labour force in its agricultural sector, comprising 57% of the working population, it still heavily relies on food imports. This means that farmers are simply not producing enough food to feed the continent’s surging population estimated at one billion people.
Solutions to persistent challenges in the agriculture sector were brought to light during the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Kigali, Rwanda.
In an interactive session titled “From Farm to Market” on Wednesday, May 20, experts from the agricultural sector emphasized that shift in mindset is paramount in breaking the problem of low production of both food and cash crops on the continent.
“Despite the fact that Africa has a rich biodiversity and most of the people are engaged in farming activities, production is still very wanting. Africa imports US $25 billion worth of food each year, with only US $1 billion coming from Africa. It means that we are not fully exploiting the opportunities in this important sector,” Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina, said.
“It is high time we realized that agriculture can no longer be treated as a social activity or a normal development program. It must be treated as a business and managed as an enterprise because it is the future of Africa’s socio-economic development.”
He said that mechanization and irrigation programs must be emphasized throughout the continent, while governments must concentrate on finding more incentives to farmers.
“We must think of mechanization; irrigation activity in Africa’s arable land is still as low as 3%, while farmers still predominantly use hoes to till their gardens. We need to use production methods that are adequate, that add value and volume to the produce coming from farms,” he said.
“Governments should ensure that farmers’ products have ready markets. They should also register all biometrics about the farmers in their countries, so that they follow them up and know all their challenges.”
According to the founder of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF), Philip Kiriro, Africa’s youthful population should be trained to develop agri-business models that not only create jobs but also contribute significantly to the continent’s food basket.
“Only 2% of Africa’s graduates are in the agriculture sector. We must attract more of them into the sector, and provide them with incentives, training and mentorship services that enable them to develop agri-business business models,” Kiriro said.
“We should also insist on organizing farmers into cooperatives, developing village markets, without forgetting to set up processing plants and storage facilities to improve the value chain of crops.”
Africa’s agriculture sector accounts for 15% of GDP and is the main source of income for 90% of the rural population.
Supporting agricultural value chains is central to AfDB’s Ten-Year Strategy (2013-2022), but this has not been well engrained among stakeholders, especially at the policy level.