The Challenge in Africa’s Agriculture Value Chain

The Challenge in Africa’s Agriculture Value Chain

To plant or not to plant?  There are moments in the life of a farmer when it seems as though planting more may not be so desirable. They earn a living by planting, so why not?  Increasing food production leads to abundance, we all know that. So what do we not know? Well, maybe you already know or have seen or experienced something close to the scenario I’m about to describe.

Once I was on transit across a particular highway linking a major farming community with a small town . Our vehicle got to a bus stop just beside the road, and not so far away from a nucleated settlement. I looked through the window to see a heap of farm produce rotting away in a major dump site. I looked a bit closer only to discover that fresh and still edible produce was among the dumped items. I inquired only to find out that the local farmers usually dump some of the produce there after failing to sell them within a particular period, or at a price they think is commensurate with their efforts or inputs.

I once travelled to a community in the interior parts of Abia State for a ceremony and I discovered there were lots of mangoes in that community. They were so much that primary  schools were littered with a whole seasons mango all on the ground . It was everywhere! As we were leaving the community dwellers offered those mangoes to us at extremely low prices that many like myself didn’t feel comfortable buying from them at the price they offered since we knew what they sold for from where we were coming.

These are not just stories,  this is the reality of many farmers. Yes there are farmers, entrepreneurs, and commercial agriculturists . These are not the ones I’m talking about. Most of the agricultural produce products consumed in developing countries are cultivated by subsistence farmers of whom most are poor.  Yes, poor farmers are feeding the rich and middle class and are yet struggling to break even.

The illusion that cultivating more will make farmers rich is not backed by reality or any economic principle.

The truth is the more food supply they produce, the more the markets are flooded with with agricultural products, and the more this happens, the more the price of their commodity falls. And complex problems arise when supply pulls the price far below their total input putting them at a loss.

This is just basic demand and supply. Price goes down when supply exceeds demand.

This has led many farmers into both financial and psychological crisis. According to this, the ” Indian government data shows 12,602 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2015 alone, mostly owing to economic distress. Indebtedness was responsible for 38.7 percent of suicides, while crop failures or the inability to sell produce led to another 19.5 percent of suicides.”

Here the Wikipedia explains “…this happens often due to their inability to repay loans mostly taken from banks and NBFCs to purchase expensive seeds and fertilizers, often marketed by foreign MNCs…”

This isn’t just about what’s happening in India, there are issues close to this in so many other places, especially in developing countries.  It is also very important to understand and identify the particular demographics that benefit from improved food supply. The populace seems to be the ones benefiting most from it.  So what about the farmer, who protects the farmer? The truth is the farmer shouldn’t be left alone in all this.

 Protecting the Farmer

In 1933 and later in 1938, the United States Government made deliberate efforts to alter the supply of these farm commodities by creating laws that will benefit the farmer. This they did it by passing the Agricultural Adjustment Act  (though controversial and open to numerous debates) which was further amended by the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938.

“The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was a United States Federal Law of the New Deal era designed to boost agricultural prices by reducing surpluses. The Government bought livestock for slaughter and paid farmers subsidies not to plant on part of their land. The money for these subsidies was generated through an exclusive tax on companies which processed farm products.”  In other words, farmers were paid to cut down production.

Another way the revenue of farmers could be enhanced  is through Agricultural Value chain. In simple terms, this refers to a whole range of goods and services  required to get the agricultural product to move from the farm to the final consumer or customer. In other words, farmers should be involved in many of the processes along the chain outside cultivation and harvest. From planting tomatoes to canning and selling,  from planting cocoa to producing and selling chocolate, from having a grape farm to producing and selling wines, the farmer should not be isolated from any of these.

In summary, farmer protection could be enhanced by, though not limited to, the following :

  1. Enactment of suitable laws aimed at regulating price and or supply.
  2. Mechanization and the use of modern technology.
  3. Value chain.
  4. Provision of suitable and sufficient storage facilities.

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