The agriculture sector in Africa is largely an informal one existing in silos and driven by subsistence needs rather than production for profit, local/foreign direct investment or other commercial motives all of which are capable of impacting the economy of our nation states on the continent. Despite the vast deposits of organic nutrients buried deep beneath the plains and soils from the Fouta Djallon highlands in Tanzania, travelling down north across the banks of the blue River Nile in Egypt and westward to the shallow ridges on the Gulf of Guinea, the good of the land that comes from an intentional and carefully planned agricultural state-economy intervention is still in the realms of imagination.
Agriculture ticks all the boxes for what is necessary to be fully operational in order to increase or beef up the revenue base of any economy. Particularly for Africa where the climatic conditions are favourable for the growth of most food crops, and the survival of various species of farm animals, the agricultural sector is in dire need of strategic state interventions, action plans and continental trade alliances between private and public authorities, to revamp itself and make it the major foreign exchange generator for our local economies.
The challenges bedeviling the agriculture sector in Africa are huge but not insurmountable. The sector has suffered terrible neglect from state authorities who have deliberately abandoned the toiling of the soil for the quick greenbacks flowing from the sale of crude. Lands that could have been designated for large scale; mechanized farming are being cordoned off for other activities of industrialization. In fact, we have observed that most African economies that have the luxury of natural gas or precious stones in their domain in commercial quantities have refused to diversify their economies and make them less reliant on one revenue source
Farmers, agricultural entrepreneurs and those involved in the entire agriculture value chain have not found it easy when it comes to securing loans and credit facilities from the government and other corporate finance institutions. Where the loans are available, the interest rates are not friendly for the average farmer. There are also challenges of little or no infrastructure/modern equipment, poor road networks to move produce from farm to market and an absence of agricultural extension services to keep farmers abreast with the current trends involved in processing, packaging, the use of genetically modified cultivars or organisms (GMOs), irrigation and other state-of-the art farming technologies.
Research institutions for agriculture over the years have received little or no funding from the government for their research expeditions. Students are no longer made to take agricultural science courses as a compulsory requisite of the curriculum to stimulate their interests in the practice and encourage them to explore the different career paths that agriculture can provide. To ensure that agriculture makes a profound impact on our economy as a continent, we would need to prioritize our plans for the sector in bit sized, actionable and purposeful short-, medium- and long-term plans. In the short term, government and other concerned private institutions must combine efforts to provide adequate support in terms of training, funding and critically positioning the sector as one of the commanding heights of the economy. Farmers should be able to have access to loans at little or no interest rates. The production of staple foods and cash crops for export should be encouraged to satisfy local demand and add to foreign exchange earnings.
As a medium-term plan, the government must partner with academia and designated institutions to research methods of driving both human technical know-how and critical infrastructure towards beefing up agricultural practices across our communities and land borders. While a few African economies are largely involved in the export of cash crops and are major suppliers of the same to the world food basket, the ripple effect of these isolated efforts are yet to be felt on the overall GDP of such a nation state and that of the continent at large. So, the long-term plan to ensure that agriculture becomes profitable up to a point of economic impact would be that authorities of African nation states must come together using the instrument of the African Union to create policies that will launch/aid free trade agreements of agriculture products between member nations. This would increase the volume of our local food trade and by extension cause a sharp decrease in the price of food items in the market. The Union must advise its member nations to prioritize agriculture to grow their local economies in terms of job creation, effective utilization of natural resources and an overall boost in the revenue pool of such a nation.
Credit: Samuel Adedoyin/ToluRock