Africa needs a future farming strategy

Africans need to reflect on the advice passed down the generations by Dakota Indians: when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

The question to be answered is: even with all the investment funding and pledges announced at the conference, can an African green revolution be realised if investments are made on the basis of an old way of thinking?

Or, does Africa need to consider reinventing agriculture in a way that responds to the existing and future challenges of our generation?

The population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to almost double from more than 1-billion in 2013 to 1.9-billion in 2050. The continent will not be able to feed an additional billion people with the existing agro-food system, not least because it cannot feed the current population — 45% of the continent’s food needs are met by imports.

While contemplating this fact, consider the following questions: can peasant agricultural systems drive Africa’s green revolution? Is Africa going to remain engaged in an agricultural system that makes no economic sense from a scale perspective? Will smallholder agriculture remain forever small, or will it evolve into medium-to large-scale commercially viable agriculture?

Should the green revolution continue to pander to the "donor-driven" peasantry at the expense of sustainable commercially driven agriculture? Will the African farmer of the future do the same things current farmers are doing?

Recent studies by the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes show the emergence of a "medium-scale" farming class of part-time farmers, who are gainfully employed in urban areas, politically connected and managing to influence policy.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta — a career politician — has confessed to being a poultry farmer on the side, for instance. Are these the people who will spearhead the green revolution for Africa?

These are serious policy questions that few politicians or analysts dare to either ask or answer. Yet the answers will define the realities shaping agriculture and, potentially, the future of the African economy.

The continent has the youngest population in the world, with almost two-thirds younger than 25 years old. They live in an IT era of social media and mass data processing and their digital savvy and level of global exposure is unparalleled in history.

Given that exposure, will they accept Africa’s poor average yield for maize of two tonnes per hectare, compared to the best practice of 19 tonnes per hectare in other parts of the world?

Will they be content with a political leadership that continues to pledge to invest in infrastructure and agriculture, but puts few resources on the ground? Will they accept Africa to remain a place of stifled agribusiness opportunities? Will this generation accept mediocrity and remain at the periphery of global advancement and development?

If, as the politicians always insist, agriculture is so important to the continent, why are governments so reluctant to put their money where their mouths are? Why is it difficult to tackle the real problems that plague the industry, such as weak infrastructure, red tape and policy confusion? When are we going to get a bold continental leadership that will "walk the talk"?

Africa has to have its green revolution — the alternative for the continent is catastrophe.




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