Inside Politics

Why Africa must upscale agricultural production

Monday, May 10th, 2021 00:00 |
President Dr Akinwumi Adesina. Photo/Courtesy

Africa despite enjoying huge arable land, robust and innovative agricultural technologies is still lagging behind in terms of food production to feed the increasing population.

This has over the years led to high food import bill, starvation, grinding poverty ravaging majority of people residing in the rural areas and general low development.   

According to African Development Bank (AfDB) which is currently spearheading resources support of the agriculture sector in the continent, has decried lack of a comprehensive approach to exploit available technology innovations to boost food production and feed the growing population.  

The bank's President Dr Akinwumi Adesina observes that despite having sound technologies to feed the people on the continent, the percentage of population going without food every day is increasing rapidly with current figure standing at 246 million.  

The bank estimates Africa’s annual food import bill at $35 billion in 2016 and is expected to increase to $110 billion by 2025.

Speaking during a recent high-level virtual dialogue forum: Feeding Africa; Leadership to Scale up Successful Innovations, Adesina decried the lack of passion to drive the food increase agenda by excellently exploiting the available technologies.

The event was hosted by the AfDB and the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the CGIAR System Organization.

Adesina said what has been lacking is a comprehensive approach to take technologies to scale – with accountability for impacts.

To take technologies off the shelves and get them into the hands of farmers, he added, there is need for a technology development and delivery platform that works at scale.

“Over the next five years the bank will invest $10.4 billion to boost the development of agricultural value chains and food production in Africa.  The bank will also invest $1.6 billion, in the next five years, to support 10 strategic crops to drive food security,” said Adesina.   

He noted that even though land is being threatened by the increasing population, there is need for the governments and other value chains to promote agriculture productivity on less land.  

Unfortunately, for many in Africa, the risk of dying from hunger is much higher than dying from Covid-19, Adesina said, adding that  “to fully recover from the pandemic, Africa must now rapidly upscale efforts to boost food production. Without food medicines don’t work.”

Without nutrition, vaccines are not effective. We must produce food on less land. We must conserve forests. And we must ensure sustainability and climate resilience.”

Africa is home to 60 per cent of the world’s arable land, yet it remains the biggest importer of food and unable to reap benefits of endowed labour. And more than 200 million African suffer from chronic undernourishment.  

The bank in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IFAD and several other partners launched a technology delivery platform - the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT).   

The platform's main goal, Adesina explained, is to harness proven technologies to raise agricultural productivity in Africa and increase food output by 100 million metric tonnes and lift 40 million people out of poverty by 2025.

Launched just two years ago, the TAAT platform has delivered heat tolerant wheat varieties to 1.8 million farmers in seven countries, increasing wheat production by 1.4 million metric tons, with a value of $291 million.

When drought hit Southern Africa region in 2018/2019, TAAT came to the rescue by deploying drought tolerant maize varieties which were cultivated by 5.2 million households on 841,000ha.

As a result, farmers survived the drought, from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, allowing maize production to expand by 631,000 metric tonnes, with a value of $107 million.

It has also boosted rice production. New high yielding rice varieties from TAAT have been cultivated on 1.4 million hectares, impacting 2.2 million households; and boosting rice production by 285,000 metric tonnes, estimated to be worth $108 million.

In just two years, TAAT has worked across 28 African countries, on 76 proven agricultural technologies, across 15 crops, and reached 11 million farmers.

Food production has expanded by over 12 million metric tonnes. And TAAT has saved countries food imports worth $814 million.

According to Adesina the achievements to date have been impressive, adding: “We must now go up the scale to feed 1.4 billion people in Africa, taking advantage of market opportunities provided by the African Continental Free Trade Area.”

During the high-level virtual dialogue on Feeding Africa forum a coalition of multilateral development banks and development partners pledged over $17 billion in financing to address rising hunger on the African continent and to improve food security.

In addition, 17 African heads of state signed on to the commitment to boost agricultural production by doubling current productivity levels through the scaling up of agro-technologies, investing in access to markets, and promoting agricultural research and development.

IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo said the organisation will extend an additional $1.5 billion to Africa to support national efforts to transform food and agricultural systems over the next three years and also invest more in creating the pre-conditions for increased agricultural productivity.

“The organisation is helping to develop a growing pipeline of investments to restore land, create jobs and build resilience to climate change in the Sahel region. This will contribute to the Green Great Wall objectives, and will create 10 million jobs in the region by 2030,” he said.

“We praise the African leaders’ commitment to increase agricultural productivity and improve food security for millions of Africans,” said Houngbo.

He added: “By modernising African agriculture, small-scale farmers will be in a better position to bring more affordable food to consumers and create decent livelihoods for millions of young Africans involved in the processing, storage and marketing of food.”

Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) committed up to $1.5 billion over the period 2020-2024 in agriculture.

Other donors promising support included the Islamic Development Bank ($3.5 billion), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($652 million) in the next three years.

The funding will support agriculture research and development initiatives in Africa and is expected to empower 300 million farmers with a host of new innovations.

President Macky Sall of Senegal summed up interventions by African heads of state on Thursday with the following seven-point action list:

They agreed to accelerate agricultural production by taking technologies to scale, increase investment in research and development, optimise technology and improve business language in agriculture to open up to the world.

Also agreed were supporting access to markets and the installation of basic infrastructure and equipment, investment in new businesses to transform agricultural produce to support small producers and creating a facility for agricultural transformation.

The outcomes from the forum will be communicated to the UN Secretary General as Africa’s commitments towards the UN Food Systems Summit in September this year.

They will lay the foundation for Africa to present a unified voice to step up efforts and partnerships towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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