Africa’s smallholder farmers are the key to economic success

Woman using a hoe to plow the soil on a small farm in Tanzania
Photo: via Flickr

Food is the most basic need. It decides not only the health of individuals but also the health of communities, which affects the health of our economies. The agriculture that underpins the food we consume accounts for at least 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP with around 40% of the workforce engaged in the sector.

At the heart of African agriculture are small farmers. These are millions of hard-working men and women who generally cultivate less than one hectare of land. They grow staple crops such as maize, wheat, rice, cassava and sorghum.

However, despite their significant contribution to economies across the continent, African farmers continue to face significant challenges on many fronts. From climate change to shocks including droughts, floods, pests and diseases, these farmers are disproportionately affected and furthermore have low adaptive and mitigation capacity. This is exacerbated by the fact that they work in a sector that obtains a disproportionate level of funding, with only 4 of 49 African countries meeting the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) recommended target of 10%. of public spending on agriculture.

As a result, Africa’s full agricultural potential remains untapped. As a dynamic and forward-looking Africa walks alongside the rest of the world in the Decade of Action to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agriculture remains a key lever to propel African economies towards a prosperous future. Agriculture-generated growth in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth in other sectors. All over the world, major economies have used agriculture to advance their economies. And history has shown us that no society makes the transition to a modern economy without first modernizing its agriculture.

The path to the bright socio-economic future we all want for Africa is through an inclusive agricultural transformation agenda. As such, my belief is that driving Africa’s economic transformation through the prism of agriculture should be a top priority that must take precedence over all other political considerations at the continental level.

When I took charge of Ghana, my country needed solutions to fight hunger, malnutrition, poverty and a host of other problems. Understanding the potential of agriculture to meet these challenges, my administration strived to provide a more efficient and productive agricultural base that would become the engine of the economy by ensuring food security, ushering in industrialization, creating jobs and increasing export earnings.

The results speak for themselves, between 2002 and 2005, cocoa production in Ghana, the world’s second largest producer, doubled from 350,000 tonnes per year to 734,000 tonnes per year, a record in over a century. cocoa cultivation in the country.

From there, my government successfully used many of the same techniques to improve the production of food crops such as corn, yams and plantains, as well as livestock and fish. As

As a basic strategy, my administration has also strengthened and tasked the Cereals and Pulses Development Board of Ghana to provide quality seeds and planting material to farmers in order to improve the quantity and quality of Ghana’s agricultural products. Overall, my administration has worked tirelessly to support irrigation, improve seed and crop diversification, infrastructure, storage for harvest, and create an environment for farmers to access mechanization like tractors. .

In 2007, during my second term, the late Mr. Kofi Annan launched the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an African institution that sought to help governments catalyze the transformation of peasant agriculture into offering uniquely African solutions to sustainably increase the productivity of farmers and connect them to a growing market. AGRA has become a powerful force and tool for the transformation of our continent.

AGRA’s approach to fostering an inclusive agricultural transformation approach has been to convene, catalyze and negotiate local partnerships to help African governments prioritize agriculture, allocate adequate resources to help smallholder farmers access information, appropriate technology and sustainable market at the same time; create an enabling business environment to leverage private sector investment.

Over the past decade, including Mali, Rwanda, Ghana and Tanzania, I have seen countries where AGRA has supported governments, achieve their AUC CAADP Malabo targets by committing 10% of spending national policies for agriculture. A number of these countries have each successfully achieved an annual growth rate of 6% with their respective agricultural sectors. A few others are striving to achieve SDG 2 (zero hunger) by the end of 2021.

With various efforts underway so far at the national level to strengthen Africa’s agricultural sector, I have no doubt that we could achieve a food secure Africa by 2030 if African institutions like AGRA and its partners continue to proactively redouble their efforts to achieve this.

Given the urgency of ensuring food security for Africa and its peoples, we cannot afford any delay in implementing the right policies to ensure success. Africa cannot wait. The time has come for a transformation of African agriculture. It requires an effective ecosystem that unleashes the right policies, public investments and private sector engagement; stimulates the economic growth of the rural sector and; that can have broad and accelerated impacts for all.

At the level of the smallholder farmer, there is a need to develop a digitalized extension system, through which the agro-industry based on the smallholder farmers of the continent, can in turn, enable a smooth transition from subsistence agriculture to profitable agriculture.

At the level of infrastructure and management services, there is an urgent need to retool the capacity of the entire value chain proposition of the sector in order to ensure fundamental change and paradigm shift; starting with the provision of continuous access to knowledge that generates development, from which the smallholder farmer can immediately benefit; and expand to input and output markets with the ultimate goal of ensuring effective interaction across Africa’s economic value chain.

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At every national level, this would mean sustained progress, so that farm and non-farm economies achieve and maintain higher incomes, faster growth, secure access to affordable and nutritious food, and greater inclusion in the process. growth.

Now is the time to invest in agriculture to usher in a new era of food security and economic growth in a digital agricultural ecosystem that works for Africa.

HE John Kufuor is the former President of Ghana (2001-2009) and the former President of the African Union (2007-2008). In 2011, he was named co-winner of the World Food Prize for Food and Agriculture.


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