The alternate future of African farming

By Lindiwe Majele Sibanda 23 October 2014

A farmer and his cattle in Kenya. With the world’s largest tracts of uncultivated arable land as well as the planet’s biggest and youngest workforce, Africa’s agriculture can unleash its great potential if farmers are equipped with knowledge and supported with the right policies. Photo by: P. Casier / CGIAR / CC BY-NC-SA

Dismal figures dominate conversations on food security in Africa.

Up to 230 million Africans are chronically malnourished, and 40 percent of children under the age of 5 will experience stunted mental and physical development.

Just last week, and as World Food Day put a spotlight on these issues, the International Food Policy Research Institute released its latest Global Hunger Index, topped — unsurprisingly — by sub-Saharan African countries. Angola, Chad and Sierra Leone were recorded as having the highest under-5 mortality rate due to hunger, ranging from 15 percent to more than 18 percent.

But there is another side to this coin. Where can you find the world’s largest tracts of uncultivated arable land? Africa. Where can you find the biggest and youngest workforce on the planet? Again, Africa.

These facts tell a different story, one of hope and great potential. To illustrate the alternate future that African farming could have if the vast challenges the sector faces can be overcome, a new infographic has been produced jointly by the agricultural coalition Farming First and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

According to this new collection of research, what could this alternate future look like?

In Kauzeni, a village just outside Morogoro, Tanzania, mother Aziza Ismail Waziri now has a home garden that is bringing nutrient-rich crops like kale and orange-flesh sweet potato to her family’s table. In this remote region, families rely on grains for their staple food, leaving them vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies that impair growth in children and lead to devastating diseases.

To diversify diets, the Mwanzo Bora (“good start” in Swahili) collective is receiving training on how to produce vegetables that have both a high nutritional value and commercial potential. Farmers like Aziza are learning how to produce their own seedlings, manage pests and use low-cost irrigation systems. In addition to producing the nutritious food, Aziza’s community is also learning to process pineapples and passionfruit for sale, providing a reliable income for the community.

As I commented at the Borlaug Dialogue last week, quantity of production is only half the story.

Better nutrition will not only reduce the numbers children who fall victim to diseases and stunting, but will raise up a healthier population that is able to be more productive. It is estimated that improved nutrition would raise Africa’s GDP by as much as 11 percent. Furthermore, with the right investments to make businesses like Aziza’s grow, Africa’s food and beverage market could be worth $1 trillion by 2020.

With almost 200 million people aged 15-24, Africa has the youngest population in the world. Each year, 10 million young Africans enter the continent’s workforce, more than ever before. This brings the great challenge of youth unemployment, but it could also be seen as a great opportunity to encourage youth to be the engine behind a new agricultural market — not just in farming but also in research, packaging, processing and retailing of food stuffs.

Agriculture for impact

When agriculture is treated like the profitable business it can be, only then will the youth step into this market and help it achieve its potential. This support can be in the form of accessible finance for startups or training courses to equip young people with business skills such as accounting and marketing.

Furthermore, if women were reached with similar training and financial support, the estimated number of hungry people in the world would be reduced by up to 17 percent. Despite accounting for 60 to 80 percent of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, women currently receive less than 10 percent of credit and only 5 percent of extension services. If women had equal access to these vital services, developing countries could see yields rise by up to 4 percent, reducing the number of undernourished people in the world by around 150 million.

If African farmers are equipped with knowledge, technology and supported with the right policies, the future of African agriculture will be unrecognizable when compared to the reality of African agriculture today.

To explore Farming First-IFAD’s infographic for yourself, and find out the whole story of African Agriculture’s potential, visit the Farming First website.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

About the author

Lindiwe majele sibanda profile
Lindiwe Majele Sibanda

Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network. In 2009, she led the "No-Agriculture, No-Deal" global campaign mobilizing African CSOs to push for the inclusion of agriculture in the U.N. Framework for Climate Change Convention negotiations. Sibanda is a trustee of CGIAR boards CIMMYT and ILRI and since 2008 has been involved with the Farming First campaign advocating for a holistic approach to sustainable agricultural development.


Join the Discussion