The primacy of good policies in developing African agriculture
For Africa to succeed it is imperative to ensure that fundamental resources are available to farmers to enable them to manage their production process more reliably and at a lower cost. This includes the provision of access to agricultural inputs and services including mechanical tools, seeds and fertilisers, amongst others; secure access to land and water resources; infrastructure, particularly roads, so as to ensure good “farm-to-market” access; pre- and post-harvest support (storage, marketing and value addition); and rural microfinance services, especially microcredit. The provision of risk management tools (insurance) to support farmers in managing weather and market variations is also critical.
None of this however can come about without the right local, national and intraregional policies in place.
The political objectives
At the political level, the idea is that encouraging young people to get into farming by creating stable markets and the various strategies and programmes aimed at smallholder or subsistence farming has the overarching objective of eliminating hunger by ensuring a sustainable food supply. According to local food security experts (since food security forms a key part of overall regional and intraregional security issues) the issue of food, food supply and shortages (and therefore rising costs) has been incorporated into economic and political assessments of risk for some time and external assistance in this regard has moved significantly from ‘hand-out’ to empowerment.
Previously, the issue of food dependency was still a major political concern as not all communities and countries had benefitted from the switch to empowerment from dependency. Changes in the role of food security (or counterpoint food insecurity) have resulted in the issue of food (i.e. the supply and cost of food) moving from a humanitarian to a political strategic objective with the accompanying changes in agricultural assistance. At the political level, this has been the crucial development over the past few years.
Empowerment over dependency
Eighty percent of rural African people depend on smallholder agriculture for their livelihood. Most farmers have less than one hectare of land, on which they struggle to keep livestock and grow sufficient fodder and food to survive.
In accordance with the doctrine of empowerment rather than dependency, the following have consequently become key strategic issues in agricultural developments across Africa:
- Practical assistance at grassroots level, which means working alongside farmers – not lecturing them.
- A focus on community involvement and encouragement to learn the facts of food production and security.
- Technology and general knowledge transfers in order to assess yields and surpluses.
- Close co-operation with host governments at all three levels to ensure maximum penetration and maximum efficiency of funding and other donations – and eliminate corruption.
- A two-way learning process where donor organisations and experts learn from local farmers what works and what does not.
- Involving local communities and delegating responsibility to local structures, backed up with knowledge and technology transfers to make maximum and sustainable use of raw natural resources such as forests and wildlife.
There are also other interventions of importance that require enactment. Since farm production and marketing is a viable pathway out of poverty for millions of people in Africa, one is access to improved agricultural technologies and loan schemes.
Traditional farming methods have left soils depleted in Africa. Simple, cost-effective conservation farming methods such as carefully timed planting, mulching with ground covers, weeding, crop rotation, and inter-planting all increase soil fertility and discourage pests while increasing crop yields.
In the drought-prone southern region of Malawi, farmers are taught rainwater harvesting using simple cost-effective techniques and locally available resources. This method could be used elsewhere in Africa. Rural farmers could also be offered “Super Money Maker” treadle pumps at subsidised prices. With year-round crop irrigation, they could then harvest three crops annually (instead of just one). Moreover selected needy families could receive drip irrigation kits and training in how to grow a home nutritional garden. A 10-metre by 10-metre irrigated home garden can produce crops year round, satisfying the needs of the extended family with surplus to sell.
A mammoth task lies ahead for the continent if it is to capitalise on its agricultural potential, and governments therefore need to be fully on board, living up to the commitments made at the 2003 African Union summit in Maputo, where they agreed to the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), dedicating 10% of national budgets to agriculture, and achieving 6% agricultural growth per annum.