Investing in Africa Agricultural Sector: the Solution to Importation

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 17-May-2018

The crazy level at which African countries import things was reiterated by the president of Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, while addressing the delegates at the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) annual meeting in Victoria Falls. Hear him: ‘it is regrettable that African countries spend between $30 billion and $50billion annually on imports of agricultural products, instead of developing the productive capacities necessary for trade’.

According to the United Nations’ 2015 World Population Prospect Report, 2.4 billion people are projected to be added to the global population between 2015 and 2050, with 1.3 billion in Africa alone. Which means by 2050, Africa will house more than half of the world’s population and as at now no preparation is being made on how it will feed its 1.3 billion population by 2050. What about the now? 2050 is still some years ahead; what are the African leaders doing to stop, or at least, reduce the importation of finished agricultural products. Currently, Africa is still unable to feed itself and depends on importation of products to feed its people. What will happen by 2050, if a stop is not put to this trend?

The potential for growth in Sustainable Agriculture in Africa is well understood, but has not been realised. Currently, the agro-allied industry (in primary processing) accounts for nearly half of all economic the activity in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, the continent spends $30bn to $50bn each year importing food and still has significant food risk and nutritional deficiencies in many parts of the region.  This is despite the fact that the continent holds much of the world’s potential agricultural land (Africa has 65% of the world arable land).

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO), Africa spends $35 billion in importing food, and it is projected that the number will grow to $110 billion by 2025. Africa is importing what it should be producing, creating poverty within the region and consequently creating jobs for the people in other continents while its people lack opportunities.

It is interesting to note that African countries import numerous agricultural products which are also, ironically, produced locally. The rise of imports for these Agricultural products has been attributed to the inability to produce enough to satisfy growing local demand, due to low yields and relatively low levels of productivity.  Furthermore, over 80% of Africa’s agricultural products are being produced by smallholder farmers who produce 70% of the continent’s food supply, according to FAO.

Taking a look at Agricultural exports, one discovers that African countries mainly export cocoa, edible fruit and nuts, coffee and tea and vegetables to the rest of the world. The main agricultural importing countries of the African export are the United States, China, Germany, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

African countries do not feature under the top supplying countries for any of these markets. If Africa is serious about changing from agricultural product importers, then addressing the following issues are of paramount importance: innovation in production technology, the cost of inputs (energy and fertilisers), management of changes in climatic conditions (e.g. access to water through irrigation), knowledge transfer and capacity building, investment in agriculture and agriculture-related infrastructure (credit facilities, transportation networks, cold-storage facilities and communication networks) and access to information.

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Governments and leaders in Africa (past and present) should (have) know(n) that if there is one thing the continent should not be found lacking in, it is food. It is shameful that, with the large arable fertile land, expansive body of waters and other enviable endowments, Africa cannot feed itself. That such a humongous amount of foreign exchange is being expended in importing food is a serious minus for the leadership of the component countries in Africa.

Agriculture is also a major component for Africa becoming an industrialised continent, in the sense that its raw materials are needed in production of other commodities. Africa has come of age and its agricultural practices should be driven by research, mechanisation and modern technology to steer it away from remaining rudimentary.

Becoming a net-exporter of agricultural products should be the worthy vision of African governments and leaders. Of course, diligent planning, development of appropriate strategies, deployment of sufficient resources and unflinching commitment by the governments and the citizenry will be the game-changers for the realisation of multiple objectives of food security, industrialisation and foreign exchange earnings. Thus, African leaders should henceforth stop using agriculture as a mere propaganda tool. They should put their hands on the plough and never look back. All those foreign long sleeved shirts, locally made agbadas and tunics need to be rolled up for work; the continent cannot remain hungry when there are seeds, lands and technology around.

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