THE AFRICAN AGRICULTURE REVOLUTION

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 12:13:50 +0000

 

A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

By Thembani M.Phiri

Africa is on the scent of something big in the agricultural sector, and any Zambian that doesn’t smell this is either dead or living on another planet.

We are at the brink of an agricultural revolution. One prompted by climatic considerations and the continued increase of scale in population has instigated a respectable rise in global demand for food and raw materials which has in turn invigorated diversification of production the world over with a bird eye focus on unutilized arable land in Africa of which Zambia has a considerably large portion.

As the world population surges to 9 billion people by 2050 and demands on the global food supply soar, the greatest opportunity for profits in agriculture may be in Africa. Seventy percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is on the continent, according to Sara Menker, the founder of Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data company with offices in New York City and Kenya.

The Chinese investments are not bearing fruit just yet. There may be plenty of land in Africa, but much of the rural landscape isn’t connected to ports by adequate infrastructure. That means new investors on the continent, which also include governments like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, have to spend billions of dollars clearing land and building roads before they can even start farming.

But the investments don’t appear to be slowing down. Menker predicts that much of the world’s food will eventually come from Africa. “It’s really about where opportunities are for new farmland exist,” she said. “You’ll see a lot more commercial production shift to different parts of the world.”

The increase in the scale of demand from global markets is the main driving force behind the imminent increase in agricultural production prospects in Zambia and other African countries with arable land on the continent.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) by effect of demographic growth and changes in diets and incomes, demand for food is likely to grow by 70% until 2050. The current outlook of increasing global demand is mirrored by considerable uncertainties of supply linked to unpredictable economic and political, but also climatic and biological (e.g. new crop and animal diseases) developments. This implies a need for accelerated agricultural production growth in developing countries.

The JRC is involved in three main challenges related to the increasing of food availability in the world: Support the dominant small-scale mixed crop/livestock farming systems; Ensure innovations from demand-driven research are accessible to farmers; lastly, Allow international trade from surplus to deficit areas, by regionally more integrated agricultural policies.

The internationally agreed framework of 8 goals and 18 targets stipulated in the Millennium Development Goals was complemented by 48 technical indicators to measure progress.

The MDG’s focus was to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, but after review of indicators the list of Sustainable Development Goals prescribed by the United Nations now focuses not only on ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, but also to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Equally, Zambia’s 7th National Development Plan has equally prioritized agrarian reforms to reduce the paradox of high poverty levels.

In previous years miniature support or attention was accorded to the expansion of import and export trade in the agricultural sectors of developing countries. The improvement of infrastructure and transport has ignited the transition from small-scale to commercial farming. With modern farming techniques, equipment and programs to help farmers afford them this potential breadbasket might not only feed itself but also export a surplus.

The acute economic problem for developing countries has always been the need to import manufactured goods in the form of chemicals and machinery. It’s accentuated by the fact that most of us also import substantial quantities of fuel, raw materials and in some cases food, most of which come from developed countries. Now with little to no loans or grants in agricultural production we were faced with the inescapable conclusion that in order to pay for the urgently needed imports we in turn had to export raw materials at a deficit, in the face of stringent terms of trade. The lion’s share of the market has been dominated or taken by the exporter from the developed countries.

At the recent 28th ordinary session of the Assembly of African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government titled ‘Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth.’ On the sidelines, President Edgar Lungu met President of Egypt, Gen Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, where the former requested for Zambia to avail land for a combined considerable large agriculture project between the two (2) countries. It will comprise of integrated farming and include highly mechanized agricultural production.

A Swedish delegation of Investors recently paid President Edgar Lungu a courtesy call at State House with profound interest to invest millions of dollars in the energy and agricultural sectors. And in the early parts of this week, the Moroccan Royal Highness King Mohammed lead a large delegation of Government Officials with Agriculture being one primary focus area.

Now with all this attention accorded to the Agricultural Sector I have developed gimlets eyes and not only do we have to be on guard from egocentric investors but also clean house where need be. So allow me to throw caution to the wind and remind you that it’s impossible to make an omelette without breaking eggs. Therefore, employment in the agricultural productivity sectors must to subsequently correspond with agricultural development. The recruitment and selection of agricultural scientists with expertise in particular areas of farming need to be deployed in every district and designated to a role in their area of specialization. There’s an urgent need to frequently evaluate the competence levels of human resource in the Provincial and District Agriculture Coordination Offices with the use of incorruptible and technologically enhanced Performance Management Systems to ascertain optimum result

We urgently need to increase funding to Provincial and District Agriculture Offices, and our Agriculture Research Centres and procure Record Management Systems. Important data comprising the quality of soils, ideal seeds and fertilizers, quantity of utilized and unutilized arable land (customary and government), climatic conditions and small-scale farmers as a percentage of the population in the respective districts ought to be captured. This curated data should be processed, stored, secured and easily accessed not only for reference but also planning purposes.

Initiatives such as Public Private Partnerships (PPP) have been essentially orchestrated to inhibit or reduce dependence on Public Sector Finance and foster enterprise development for local entrepreneurs by working collaboration with foreign investors in various sectors of the economy. PPP’s if clinically formulated with the view of harnessing ethical values and principles of both indigenization and liberalism theories

Early this week Minister of Agriculture Dora Siliya lamented that only 1% of farmers are accessing Agri-Finance from Financial Institutions. Like every newly established industry, it’s a truism that in the initial phases of the transition from small-scale to commercial farmers an inordinate demand for imported machinery and components is generated and substantial financial support required, but gradually when the purchasing power of exports exceed manufactured imports stability is attained.

On the other hand Minister of Commerce Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe revealed the World Bank and Ministry of Finance had put pen to paper a $40m concessional credit facility to support the Agri-business and Trade Project for a 5 year period. It’s an Agri-Finance Accelerated Programme funded by Master Card Foundation targeted at empowering subsistence farmers with access to digital and financial information services in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia has been initiated by Mercy Corps.It’s targeted at reaching 4000 subsistence farmer households, 300 SMME’s and estimated to benefit approximately 30,000 people. The primary focus areas are to link farmer groups (cooperatives), agri-business and markets. Including to sustainably integrate small scale emerging farmers and agri-business emerging SMME’s in value chains with well-established end markets. Lastly it aims at strengthening the regulatory and institutional framework for Agri-business and trade.

Our desire is that the funds will be evenly and according distributed to the relevant individuals.

Sub-Saharan Africa has two abundant resources: its youth and agricultural land. With the youngest population globally and the largest share of the world’s arable land, Africa stands to benefit greatly from getting and keeping the youth involved in agriculture. Africa’s agricultural sector has the lowest productivity in the world. And that is why the future of Africa is in the hands of the youth. They are one of the greatest assets and a force to reckon with for improving the productivity and growth of all sectors of Africa’s economy. They are dynamic, enthusiastic, resourceful, creative, innovative and adventurous. They come from different and highly varied social backgrounds, cultures and traditions. They are very heterogeneous and cannot be ignored if a renaissance of Africa is to be achieved in the 21st century. Agriculture is one avenue to consider for creating jobs, increasing production and raising productivity. These goals are crucial if the continent is to reduce food insecurity. Further opportunities exist along the value chain, from crop production to the processing of raw agricultural produce into food to the distribution of these to markets.

(Uwaingila mu mushitu tomfwa nswa swa)

The object of this article is not to teach your grandmother to suck eggs, but enlighten the Zambian who does not have a grand stand view of the vast opportunities and potential the agriculture sector is currently tendering. If this article hasn’t raptured a nerve in your brain, be kind enough to inform me, for I probably need to produce a music video with Macky 2 and Chef 187 with twerkers in the background as I rap, and then just maybe you’d pay attention.

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