There is no civilization that has developed without feeding itself, writes Hamond Motsi. He explores the critical role of agriculture in driving Africa’s socioeconomic development, as food security, poverty alleviation, and job creation take centre stage.
The subject of socioeconomic development in Africa has been a headline since the birth of decolonization when African countries prematurely escaped from colonial coffers to regain their sovereignty. The Organization of African Unity, now known as the African Union, was founded in 1963 on the 25th of May to coordinate and spearhead development in post-independent Africa, But, until today concrete developments in this continent are still blurry, specifically when compared to other global regions.
With that in mind, African countries have been formally and repeatedly categorized with a series of pejorative names like “third world countries”, “developing countries”, “low-income countries”, OECD, and many other names too deep to mention. The main criterion in these categorizations is its prevalence of food insecurity, hunger, and poverty, emanating from the failure of Africa to optimize its agricultural productivity to feed itself.
George Eliot quoted, “No man can be wise on an empty stomach”, which implies that no proper thinking, no work, and no development can happen with an empty stomach. Even in agriculture academic spaces in Africa, words such as “food security/insecurity”, “hunger” and “poverty” are regularly mentioned by researchers because they have recognized the commonness of these challenges as a bottleneck for African prosperity.
Africa remains the utmost food insecure continent globally, with an estimate of over 232 million people under-nourished.
Another point of departure is the continuous presence and reliance of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Aid in Africa which have been at the forefront in assisting challenges being faced on the continent. But despite being labeled controversial, their assistance to Africa in addressing food security, hunger, and poverty should not be ignored. Some of the common Aids in Africa are UK Aid, US Aid, Aus Aid, and other international organizations like WFP which directly or indirectly donates food to Africans.
Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war have become major global challenges that have shaken the world’s socioeconomic dynamics, and further uncover the vulnerability of Africa to food insecurity. Expectedly, food insecurity, poverty, and hunger intensified, driven by these challenges, and as usual, aid was continuously supplied, despite that these aid countries were also affected by these situations.
According to FAO, much of the food and agriculture commodities consumed in Africa, mostly cereals, meat, dairy products, fats, oils, and sugar are imported for about USD 80 billion annually outside the continent, while intra-continental trade for these commodities is less than 20%. However, there are few successful cases of agricultural commodities exported outside the continent, such as wine, maize, and wool from South Africa, tobacco from Zimbabwe, tea from Kenya, and cocoa from Ghana and Ivory Coast.
The distressing part is that Africa has a diverse range of agricultural climates and geographical characteristics which can maximize its productivity and become autonomous in feeding itself. After Asia, Africa consists of the largest arable land area suitable for various farming activities such as crop, fruit, forest, and animal husbandry production. In addition, Africa has numerous freshwater resources such as lakes, rivers, dams, and underground aquifers, which if effectively utilized may completely support agriculture with irrigation. Thus, agriculture offers the full potential in improving food security, job creation, and improvement of livelihood in Africa.
However, these resources remain underutilized which is the reason for constant underperformance, thus the continuous unresolved food insecurity and hunger issues, which add up to other challenges such as the slow adoption of mechanization and technology.
With the significant strides of the Green Revolution during the midst of the 20th century agriculture mechanization became pivotal in improving agriculture production globally.
Mechanization brought birth to crucial equipment such as tractors, combine harvesters, and other implements which replaced conventional agriculture practices.
Recently, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has occupied agriculture spaces (named Precision Agriculture) with its sophisticated technological advancement, which uses, computers, sensors, drones, remote sensing, and geographical information systems, also proved to be effective in managing overwhelming problems in agriculture. Precision Agriculture has gone beyond human imagination and capacity in fostering efficiency in the agriculture sector globally.
Both mechanization and technology in agriculture have been successfully implemented in other regions of the world resulting in the reduction of food insecurities and hunger. Again, these regions have far much worse challenges of land scarcity and climatic conditions for agriculture and water than Africa but have optimized technology and mechanization for alleviating their productivity. Therefore, Africa needs to embrace and adopt mechanization and technology to increase its agricultural productivity.
Other solutions on how agriculture in Africa can be improved are well known and have been repeatedly discussed, but the emphasis should focus on implementation. The resolutions require robust transformation at an institutional level through upgrading the level of politics and governance as well as an end to insurgence which has parade and destabilized various parts of the continent. Also, at a ground level, there is a need to rigorously improve field agronomic practices, promotion of rural infrastructure development, invest in knowledge acquisition, and increase easy access to marketing and financial corridors.
Africa has great potential to alleviate its agricultural productivity which will drive its socioeconomic development on a full stomach. There is no civilization that has developed without feeding itself, thus until Africa starts to prioritize agricultural development, that will be the dawn of its socioeconomic development.
- Hamond Motsi is a scholar interested in sustainable agricultural management practices. He holds an MSc in Agronomy (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University and BSc Hons in Crop Science and BSc in Crop and Soil Science (cum laude) both from the University of Fort Hare. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.