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Farming in Africa

D 14 novembre 2015     H 05:00     A     C 0 messages

It is estimated that Africa holds up to 65 percent of the world’s arable land.

The number of African countries facing severe food shortages has doubled over the past two decades. The United Nations reports that the factors that have contributed to this include extreme weather conditions, natural disasters and insurgencies. According to the UN, as many as 24 countries are contending with food crises across sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or one person in every four, lack adequate food for a healthy and active life. And record food prices and drought are pushing more people into poverty and hunger.

These problems are only going to get worse as the upward trajectory of urbanisation casts its shadow across most of Africa, which will require more food to be transported and distributed within cities, increase demand for water and also increase demand for agricultural and food products. The demand for food staples is predicted to double by 2020 as urban populations grow by 4 per cent each year. Much of that growth is made up of low-income earners who spend the majority of their pay on basic food items.

Today, Africa does not grow enough food to feed its own population and African countries have tended to satisfy increasing demand through more expensive imports from the global market. The agriculture sector in many African countries is in a parlous state. It’s a situation primed for hunger and unrest. It is stating the obvious that the solution to the food crisis in Africa is for Africa to grow more food locally. However, Africa has the ability to grow enough food not only to feed itself, but also to help solve the worldwide food deficit. Many African countries have the advantages of fertile soil and the possibility of year-round farming and more than one harvest per year.

Only 5 per cent of grain consumed in Africa comes from African farmers. Its yields are a third or half of yields elsewhere in the world. There is only one tractor per 320 people economically active in African agriculture with 3.5 million more tractors needed to put Africa on a par with other agricultural economies. 79 per cent of arable land in Africa remains uncultivated and annual post-harvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa average US$4 billion. Most African farmers are smallholders with limited access to technology and tools, fertiliser and good farming know-how. Regions in Africa have natural food surpluses in certain staples and deficits in others ; the key is to maximise output and get the food to where it’s needed. The attempts at national self-sufficiency have not worked.

Africa spends more than $35 billion annually on food imports while food worth up to $48 billion is lost annually in postharvest losses, and a further 6.6 million tonnes of potential grain harvest, enough to meet annual calorific needs of approximately 30 million people, is lost due to degraded ecosystems. Between 2000 and 2010, up to 13 million hectares of forest were cleared annually in Africa primarily to expand land for food and fuel. The consequence was a degradation of ecosystems that underpin food production in the first place and loss in potential yields further compounding the food security scenario. As an example, due to deforestation, up to 6.6 million tonnes of potential grain yields are lost annually in Africa. If left unchecked, such approaches contribute to the virtual cycle of poverty and food insecurity in the continent.

On incomes and poverty reduction, the World Bank reports that in Africa, a 10 percent increase in crop yields translates to approximately a 7 percent reduction in poverty. Neither the manufacturing nor services sectors can achieve an equivalent impact. In addition, agriculture currently employs up to 60 percent labor in the continent, making it the most potent conduit sector through which inclusive growth in Africa can be achieved. However, current productivity of Arica’s agriculture is low, contributing a lowly 25 – 34 percent of continental GDP.

Agriculture can potentially ensure inclusive and sustainable growth in the continent if its value chain is optimized holistically. It can create jobs for many of the 17 million youth entering the job market annually while simultaneously feeding Africa. A climate proofed agriculture sector based on ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA) techniques that work with nature and augmenting on farm productivity with value addition strategies to unlock income opportunities along the entire agro-value chain will potentially result in yield increases of 116 – 128 percent and accompanying farmer income increases, and be two to four times more effective in reducing poverty relative to other sectors.

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