Agriculture in Africa - a national priority and business opportunity

What are the key issues in African food security?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

I would say that the most important thing would be to change the mindset of agriculture in Africa, and this is already happening in some African countries. It is important that people start seeing agriculture as a national priority and strategy, but also as a business opportunity.

A national priority because it is proven that growth in agriculture is twice as effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. So this is especially true in countries with high rural poverty rates, which is the case of most countries in Africa.

We have some really good examples of countries that heavily invested in agriculture in the last few years, and they are now benefitting for better levels of security and from a vibrant agricultural sector. This is the case of Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Another reason it should be seen as a priority is that agriculture may be part of the answer for one of Africa’s biggest challenges in the coming years, which is high unemployment rates, especially among young people.

If we consider that 65 per cent of the African population works in agriculture, and that we talking about an extremely young population with 75 per cent being aged 25 years or younger, and a population that is still predominantly rural and will remain like that for the next 30 years, we realise that the only sector with the capacity to absorb this working force is agriculture, at least for now.

And so it would be important to present it, especially for young people, as an attractive alternative, not the only choice for people who did not make it to the cities and to the urban labour market.

What is the reality of the agricultural sector across Africa?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

As this mindset is changed, it is also important to focus on what is the reality of agriculture in Africa. It is obviously a quite diverse reality that depends on a lot of factors that vary country by country, region by region, and even within the same country there are differences that determine agricultural productivity and agriculture.

But I would say that we can identify two main types of agriculture in Africa. The first one that is definitely most predominant is smallholder farming. Smallholder farming accounts for the majority of agricultural production in Africa. In some countries smallholder farmers produce up to 80 per cent of the consumed food in food products, so it’s really important. And associated with this smallholder farming is subsistence farming, where the farmer produces only what he needs to feed himself and his family.

So we have this reality that is widespread, and that it reflects what is most common in agriculture in Africa. But at the same time, in some countries, we have a strong export-orientated sector focusing on products like cocoa, palm oil or cotton. And what happens when these two types of agriculture coexist the strong export-orientated sector tends to attract all the investment and the attention.

So it is important for governments to rethink the balance between these types of agriculture.

What challenges must be met in order to achieve sustainable growth?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

Poverty in Africa is still a predominantly a rural phenomena. And the rural poor in Africa, like in other places, tend to be more vulnerable than the urban poor. We cannot have sustainable growth in agriculture if we do not invest in rural development and the empowerment of those communities, and especially in rural governance.

So I would say that this is a challenge, and is something that is really required to achieve sustainable growth in agriculture.

A second challenge is technology, there is still a lot to be done. There is a huge technological gap. And to meet this challenge governments will need a lot of public and private investment. And associated with this we have research, and research is proved to be quite an efficient tool to improve sustainable growth.

If we consider that in Africa we have only 70 agricultural researchers for every million population, and the number for Latin America is 550, and for North America it is 2640, we realise there is still a lot to be done here.

(Photo credit:dpa)