Africa can feed herself
Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) is now the hottest emerging market in the world. Top tier SSA countries are generating over 8% GDP growth per annum by creating and capturing value from abundant natural resources. However, the continent cannot feed itself and spends over $50 billion per annum on expensive food imports. Millions of Africans die from starvation each year despite the continent having approximately 600 million hectares (24%) of the world’s most fertile arable land to sustain a growing population.
Productivity gap is widening
Productivity has remained flat over the last six decades. Developed countries like Australia and USA have managed to harness technology to increase yields by 300%, however, African yields have remained stagnant over the last six decades.
Negative perceptions about agriculture
Africa has a growing, young, educated population that is not interested in agriculture. Generally, there is a negative perception that farming is for dummies. Many consider farming a non-viable alternative to get out of poverty even though there are many other value-add opportunities across the agricultural value chain. Young farmers often complain that the African dream to own a big house and drive nice cars is very distant for farmers.
Education and capital is required to unlock value
With over 50% of Africans still living in rural geographies, most subsistence farmers grow their food to feed their families and livestock. Most peasant farmers have not harnessed modern mechanization ‘to do things’ more efficiently because of capital constraints and continue to use animal power. These farmers struggle to produce sufficient food to feed their families and often rely on foreign donors to fill the gap. Consequently, there is $50 billion value leakage per annum from expensive food imports from developed countries.
Subsistence farming models have failed to deliver growth and prosperity
Although local African governments understand the benefits for adopting commercial farming models, adoption is low. Most governments are reluctant to shift policies to support commercialization because they fear dissent from the majority rural voters. The promise for independence from colonial powers was that each family would get back their freedom and land. Without education and creating alternative opportunities, local rural farmers will resist industry consolidation if they perceive it will jeopardize their way of life.
Closing the gap
I believe that agrarian reforms in SSA will alleviate the current humanitarian crisis. Reforms in agriculture will create stable economies, provide wage-paying jobs, reduce child mortality and end wars. The recommendations below will drive industry performance.
- Consolidate small farms in strategic locations to gain economies of scale and drive productivity.
- Enact government policy to support local farmers. For example, impose quota limits on imports to drive productivity for local industries.
- Harness technology to reduce costs, improve quality and service delivery.
- Mitigate climate risks by investing in irrigation infrastructure to support all year round farming cycles.
- Provide affordable finance to small-scale farmers to enable them to grow and prosper.
- Raise awareness and appeal for farming to young Africans who are abandoning their rich fertile land in the rural areas to pursue manufacturing and white-collar jobs in major cities
Jo Chidwala is an experienced business leader with proven record of accomplishment to transform businesses by formulating and executing product and pricing strategies that generate value. He is a strategic thinker with strong analytics, modelling and communication skills; can lead and motivate teams to drive projects to completion.