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Building a resilient and sustainable agriculture in Africa is the subject of one of the High Level Panel discussions of the 11th African Economic Conference (AEC) which entered its second day on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
Chris Barrett, an agriculture professor at Cornell University in the United States, who led the discussion focused on a number of constraints faced by African smallholder farmers who account for 90% of the continent’s agricultural production.
These range from the need to simultaneously address issues related to adaptation to the environment, infrastructure deficiency, natural resources conservation, market access, and the capacity to utilize modern agricultural inputs efficiently.
“Observations of smallholder inefficiency often reflect failure to control variations in natural conditions,” noted, which reduces their productivity by half in certain cases.
Citing the case of Ivorian rice farmers who could only realise 52% of their potential yields in certain areas, smallholder farmers face a number of constraints including markets, policies and technologies that make productivity gains feasible and profitable.
Timothy Williams, Director for Africa of the International Water management Institute in Accra, Ghana, raised the issues of low use of the continent’s huge water resources by farmers, noting that only 5.2% of the continent’s farmlands were irrigated.
“Building sustainable agriculture should start with a sustainable and good water resources management,” he said.
Sustainable agriculture refers to a systems approach to food, feed, and fibre production that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people.
Stallholder farmers account for 80% of farms in Sub-Saharan Africa. They contribute about 90% of agricultural production in the region (minus South Africa), provide employment to 60% of the continent’s population and 27% of its GDP growth.
Africa currently has 600 million hectares or 65% of all the uncultivated arable land in the world, according to recent estimates.