Agriculture is one of the most important economic activities providing a source of livelihood and food for majority of the population across Africa. majority of the people in the sector are engaged in either crop farming or / and livestock keeping. The abundance of labor to embark on these ventures has continued to provide potential pool of producing output that would improve the livelihoods of people. Improving the living standards of people would translate to economic growth and development. However, this is not the case as the sector continues to grapple with multiple issues. There are cases where productivity has diminished, while in others, it is not sustainable.
According to the World Economic Forum, Africa has about 60% of the world’s Arable land, which is uncultivated, yet the continent remains a net food importer.
This poses the question; why has farming in Africa not made any gains so far? Episodes Research and Consulting recently conducted desk research on the issues facing Agriculture in Africa.
Some of the key challenges include:
1. Climate change
A significant portion of production in Africa still relies on natural seasons for rains as well as harvest. However, these have changed over time, and getting distorted as climate change impacts these natural cycles. This has impacted any planning and timing for planting, and subsequent crop management steps until harvesting and post harvesting. For instance, in some markets, maize / corn was a two-seasons or 3 seasons crop per year. This has now reduced to only one season.
In addition, that crop is not only for maize / corn volume only, but the stalks are used for other aspects such as mulching (enriching the soils), as animal feeds, among other uses. Hence, the impact from reduced production is not only on the volume of maize but also in other aspects of farm production.
This has impacted bulk of the farmers who would have shifted from subsistence farming to commercial, which forms bulk of small-scale holders.
2. Unfair competition coupled with Lack of financial funds
Financial support to farmers is insufficient and a major drawback to the success of agriculture in Africa. Agriculture is just like any other business that requires finances to start up and stay in business. Farmers finances are limited such that they cannot expand their practices but are only able to do practices that are cheap which in turn yield low productivity. This is coupled with poor management of cheap imports, especially out of the continent.
Intra-Africa trade on Agriculture is also low, yet this could be a key source of food security within the continent.
3. Non-implementation of government policies
There have been efforts by governments of African countries to boost the agricultural sector. Policies have been formulated; strategies made over time, but their implementation has since lagged. This makes efforts by government fruitless and the farmer still vulnerable.
With agriculture, being a very vital sector in economies, there is need for government and other stakeholders to formulate and implement solutions that will boost the sector promoting growth of the economy
4. Limited experience and knowledge
A large percent of population in Africa is in the rural areas. Some of these areas are remote, with poor infrastructure, low connectivity to other areas and markets. Majority of the farmers therefore rely on traditional methods and equipment for farming which are labor intensive hence productivity is relatively low. Lack of training and experience with modern farming practices is evident across countries in the continent, and hence there is need to (re)invest in extension services.
5. Market access
The intermediaries involved in the chain of distribution of the farm produce from the farmer to the final consumer are many. Majority of the farmers based in the rural areas still rely on brokers to ensure that their produce reaches the market. Reliance on brokers makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Poor access to markets in this case includes brokers who manipulate prices, create barriers to competition and make it difficult for market entry by players perceived as ‘outsiders’.
At Episodes Research, we work in the agriculture sector, with partners and clients across the continent to help navigate such nuances. We invite you to share your comments. We are glad to partner with you in this conversation.