Africa has potential to feed the world with 60% of total uncultivated arable land available for agriculture. Yet Africa fails to feed itself. Even though more than 60% of the workforce is employed by agricultural sector, the continent relies on imports to meet basic needs such as grains ($15bn annually) and chickens (over 500kt per year).
Malawian rice has potential to rival leading Asian producers but suffers from a lack of investment and supportive policies for the agricultural industry
#1 Agriculture does not appeal to the youth
Boosting agricultural productivity requires the use of agritech and data-driven insights
Farmers have long relied on seasonal patterns and gut instinct to guide their activities. Agriculture in Africa is heavily dependent on rain as an input and this determines when the farming season starts. Farmers will then plant seeds and hope for the best. Climate change has rendered this approach ineffective as weather patterns are now more unpredictable.
Farmer’s practice religion in agriculture by looking to the heavens instead of relying on data driven insights
Farmers need access to data to make more informed decisions. Given the increase in mobile phone ownership and mobile internet access across Africa, many farmers are now able to access the relevant and accurate data on their phones if they know what and where to look for it. For example, FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System provides data on earth observation for crop monitoring, crop prospects, markets and trade, price and policy, supply and demand balance, vulnerability and risk.
#5 Agricultural productivity remains low
Manually harvesting tea in Uganda
There are three main reasons why productivity in this sector is low:
Outdated tools: AfDB estimates that 75% of farmers prepare land using hand tools instead of modern tools such as trucks and drones
Incorrect seeds: soil analysis is not performed to ensure that the right seed is planted
Low fertiliser usage: Africa uses less than 10kg per hectare compared to the global average of 200kg per hectare. Farmers also use the same fertiliser for all crops even though the nutrient requirements for crops are different
Production losses of around 45% from mistakes made throughout the lifecycle: planting incorrect seeds, insufficient fertiliser used, manual harvesting methods, poor storage and incorrect transportation and handling enroute to market
Around 15% of produce is lost transporting produce to markets
Africa has a natural advantage to become the world’s leading agricultural producer but this is an opportunity the continent has failed to realise. It is unacceptable for Africa to be importing rice, sorghum, meat, chicken, spices, fruits and vegetables.
The change should start with consumers who can be sensitised via marketing and educational campaigns about the long-term impacts of relying on imports. Everyone in society has a role to play in order to fix this problem and build food security.
Strategy First LLC: Washington based consultancy supporting agriculture in Africa
M. Demba Ndiaye is the Founder and CEO of Strategy First LLC, a Washington DC-based consultancy providing advisory services to African farmers. Strategy First was launched in 2011 and its parent organisation, COMENGIP, has been working with community-based grassroots in Senegal since 1996. Their current work in Africa is focused on:
Scaling up development opportunities
Capacity on sound partnership agreements
Enabling conditions for regional cooperation
Stimulating youth & women focus in the areas of Agriculture, food security, and climate change resilience
Ongolo is a Pan-African thought leader and ideas blog whose mission is to change the narrative about Africa as a continent that has little to offer Africans and the rest of the world. The blog provides news, insights and analysis on the economy, entrepreneurship, events, innovation, leadership and lifestyle. The blog has a global audience of people who have genuine interest in and passion for Africa.