[Column] Bob Koigi: A trillion dollar African food market is only a commitment away
On average fertilizer use most African countries is less than 10 percent of the world’s average with fertilizer access by especially smallholder farmers seems to be the biggest headache. Water stress and absence has been blamed for the dwindling yields especially by farmers who rely on rainfed agriculture to grow crops.
Africa is home to dozens of international agricultural research institutions that have come up with superior, disease resistant, high yielding crop varieties. Yet sadly only a negligible number of smallholder farmers have access to these seeds, researchers tell us.
Poor storage facilities and substandard storage pesticides have been responsible for the rising cases of post-harvest losses with details emerging that African countries losses over $4 billion annually in post-harvest maize grain losses due to lack of storage facilities.
The situation is further aggravated by the fact that 70 percent of the population lives more than two hours’ travel time from a market and with poor infrastructure most of the produce is has to be stored.
Climate change, the ticking time bomb is bound to suppress yields by upto 40 percent in the next ten years and reduce cultivatable land.
So what exactly is the nexus? The truth is, all the above factors are intertwined and have been responsible for the near halt of our food security situation in the country. If rains fail, farmers plant/ harvest nothing and the continent goes hungry. If by chance farmers harvest and the post harvest losses take a toll on the yields, again the cycle of hunger continue being fanned.
The reality of the litany of woes facing the agricultural sector is too grim to warrant handling one issue in isolation. Our priorities from farm to fork seem warped which could be a major contributor to our snail paced commercialization of farming. A multifaceted approach is desperately needed to save face. The point here is the nexus between food security, income generation and agricultural diversification cannot be gainsaid.
According to the World Bank, Africa’s food systems, currently valued at US$313 billion a year from agriculture, could triple if governments and business leaders radically rethink their policies and support to agriculture, farmers, and agribusinesses, which together account for nearly 50 percent of Africa’s economic activity.
And no time has this been so crucial than our times when a growing population coupled with the effects of climate change is rendering certain crops ‘uncultivatable.’ Policies are equally shifting to embracing mixed farming.
Value-added agriculture which has been greatly missing in our continent would also offer the possibility of changing the rural face of Africa by increasing returns to the farmers and – with the right investment – making Africa the food factory of the world. However the required infrastructure is currently lacking, calling for investment in the agricultural value chain by both the private and public sectors.
On the other hand, the lack of a framework guiding partnerships between the Government and the private sector has been detrimental to the country’s efforts to secure food security, by failing to give farmers incentives that would see them boost production.
We however congratulate the few public private sector partnerships that are bearing fruits in spurring agriculture to new highs and is a step in the right direction in as far as paradigm shift is concerned.
Indeed industry players reaching out to smallholder farmers is enough to make agricultural turnarounds in the continent and turn Africa into the agricultural powerhouse of the world that many research institutions have rightfully identified.
Multiple award winning Kenyan journalist Bob Koigi is the Chief Editor of East Africa at Africa Business Communities