How Africa Can Successfully Tackle Food Insecurity, Inequality, By Paul Okolo
With 60 percent of the word’s remaining arable land, which translates to 600 million hectares of global uncultivated land, experts say it’s preeminently qualified to not only feed itself but the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Africa countries import food items worth $35 billion yearly… This is unacceptable and must be stopped.
African countries were among the hardest hit by last decade’s global economic crisis and the slump in commodity prices. And no country was more profoundly impacted than oil-rich Nigeria. While its crude oil sold above $100 a barrel and its vaults were awash with petrodollars, the government blew away the resources on prodigal, frivolous spending. Those charged with protecting the commonwealth mindlessly frittered away the windfall. Instead of deploying the funds into agriculture, solid minerals, manufacturing and other income-yielding industries, the country became complacent, importing everything from toothpicks to tomato paste, and putting away little or nothing for the inevitable lean years. Diversifying the economy was only a slogan mouthed by politicians with no corresponding action. As oil accounts for over 70 percent of government revenue and more than 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings, shocks to global oil prices had “significant effects” on the Nigerian economy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on December 5 at the 11th African Economic Conference in Abuja. As the oil price slump easily exposed her soft economic underbelly, Nigeria is now compelled to give other sectors, particularly agriculture, the attention it’s been demanding for decades.
The same is true of many African countries whose economies became vulnerable because of their dependence on one commodity. Liberia, rich in iron ore and rubber, is one of those countries that was forced to return to the land, according to Charles Mclain, Deputy Minister in its Ministry of Agriculture. The crash in the price of iron ore and the destructive Ebola epidemic it experienced in 2014 triggered an agricultural transformation in the country, he said. “Without them, I don’t know where agriculture would be in Liberia.”
Faced with similar economic difficulties fifty years earlier, South Korea, an Asian Tiger, responded correctly. The country adopted a clear plan to drive import substitution by raising agricultural productivity through industrialisation to achieve food self-sufficiency. The formula it adopted was one of agriculture allied with industry, manufacturing and processing capability, resulting in strong and sustainable economic development and wealth creation. This couldn’t have been possible without strong political will, solid long-term planning and execution, structural transformation policies and robust investments in human capital. Today, Korea’s per capita gross domestic product is 17 times that of Sub-Saharan Africa, while its total GDP is $1.3 trillion, compared to $1.6 trillion for sub-Saharan Africa, said Akinwunmi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank. Korea is also the 11th largest economy in the world and a generous donor of development finance.
Today, Asia’s agricultural output is led by large private agri-business enterprises engaged in industrial agriculture. Agricultural output per worker has risen on average by 2.2 percent per year between 1980 and 2010 in Asia, compared to 0.6 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Without the green revolution, Asia couldn’t have become the industrial and economic giant that it is today, observed Adesina. Clearly, Africa can learn a lot from the successful Asian experience to drive agro-industrialisation. Given the continent’s agricultural potentials, emulating this Asian model can only yield positive results.
…the need to build agricultural capacity is imperative now more than ever before. This is because the continent can’t hope to use yesterday’s back-breaking implements to meet the needs of its one billion people and the rest of the world. Thanks to science and technology, the quantity and quality of Africa’s agricultural produce can today be vastly improved.
With 60 percent of the word’s remaining arable land, which translates to 600 million hectares of global uncultivated land, experts say it’s preeminently qualified to not only feed itself but the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Africa countries import food items worth $35 billion yearly. While Nigeria alone accounts for $5 billion, Democratic Republic of the Congo spends around $1 billion. This is unacceptable and must be stopped. Much of this funds could be ploughed into the provision of social and physical infrastructure that are capable of spurring positive growth for the countries concerned.
Surely, if the continent can transform its present subsistent agriculture into a thriving business, it will, no doubt, be able to guarantee food security, eliminate hunger, and create jobs at home rather than continue to export them to the U.S., Europe and Asia. This will give a boost to intra-African trade and sustain the level of growth required to get Africa out of the poverty cycle. But the desired transformation will only emerge after African countries have put in place strong and inclusive institutions backed by well-coordinated development plans,” said Abdalla Hamdok, the acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Experts are quick to point out that Africa’s problem isn’t a lack of development plans but the ability to implement them. As Ayodele Odusola of UNDP’s Africa Regional Bureau put it, “there’s no African country that doesn’t have what it takes to drive the agricultural sector and guarantee food security and narrow inequality; the missing link is implementation.”
Also, the need to build agricultural capacity is imperative now more than ever before. This is because the continent can’t hope to use yesterday’s back-breaking implements to meet the needs of its one billion people and the rest of the world. Thanks to science and technology, the quantity and quality of Africa’s agricultural produce can today be vastly improved. In this regard, I totally agree with Prof. Paul Amaza of the University of Jos who said “If we’re going to succeed (in transforming Africa’s agriculture), we must build the capacity of our farmers.”
Paul Okolo, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.