13.9 C
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Transforming African agriculture: a holistic approach to achieving resilience

- Advertisement -

By Dr Thulasizwe Mkhabela

Agriculture is an indispensable sector of the African economy, and it is vital for the livelihoods of many African people, particularly those in rural areas.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions in agricultural production and related activities, leading to significant breakdowns in supply chains and adverse effects on food supply and security in Africa. Therefore, it is crucial to transform current agri-food systems, pandemic response, and healthcare systems.

Agricultural development on the continent has often focused on improvements in farming systems and practices while ignoring the human element of agriculture – the farmer.

To feed the current and future population of Africa, transformation in technology and methodology of agriculture and the food value chain must occur holistically, focusing on youth, women and smallholder farmers.

Human capital development, land reform and sustainable outreach programmes are integral components of the proposed holistic approach. The system must be profitable to contribute to larger economic growth, especially given that it is a business and should be viewed as such.

The technologies and methodologies developed and deployed must be transformational in scope and scale to meet the diverse needs of African agriculture. This includes vertical agriculture in land-constrained regions to grow high-value products, ocean or sea farming in coastal regions and the development of perennial or multiple harvesting crops and self-replicating plants.

Digital agricultural technologies, methodologies and innovations must be integrated with indigenous knowledge to optimally develop African agriculture that is resilient, agile, adaptable, and regenerative. Standardisation of methodologies and technologies will help drive rapid deployment and scaling up.

To protect against future supply chain disruptions, it is necessary to build regional capacity to grow strategically selected food-security crops incorporating indigenous knowledge and practices.

Governments must be open to equitable land reform and incentivise farmers to organise in communal farming arrangements that are suitable for mechanisation and irrigation.

Several countries in Africa have irrigation schemes that are ageing and under derelict conditions due to neglect and lack of maintenance. Furthermore, several countries have had mechanisation programmes that have now fallen flat after donors pulled out.

Land reform should also include land tenure reforms, particularly under communal and traditional land areas to engender better access to land by women and the youth for agricultural purposes.

Farmers should also have access to supporting services and markets to sell their produce. The creation of a conducive environment within which farmers operate and the broader governance of the agri-food system is predominantly the government’s purview, by default.

Having said this, the importance of broad consultation and stakeholder engagement cannot be discounted.

For any transformation in the agriculture sector to be successful and sustainable, it is imperative that sufficient consensus, through consultation and robust dialogue, is reached for all and sundry to take ownership of the programme and support it.

The process followed in the crafting of the Agriculture and Agroprocessing Master Plan (AAMP), although not a blueprint, provides an excellent example of how to have a broad-based approach to agricultural transformation.

In designing a resilient agri-food system, logistics of the food supply chain from securing crops at the farm gate to storage facilities, food processing facilities, and food stores as well as distribution and retail centres need to be integrated to work together to deliver food to consumers at the least cost and carbon footprint.

The end goal in mind here should be to shorten the value chains as much as possible without losing efficiencies while catering for all role-players in the sector, particularly smallholder farmers in far-flung rural areas. Such a design should also aim at lowering the transaction costs for both the market and farmers in integrating the latter into formal and lucrative markets.

A caveat here is that such an attempt at designing resilient agri-food systems should take cognisance of the fact that sometimes informal and local markets are more profitable for farmers and less complicated to navigate.

Shortening value chains also involves consumers choosing to buy more local produce, thus reducing the carbon footprint of the food that lands on their tables and helping to support local farmers, thus contributing to more vibrant and prosperous communities.

The design and implementation will require new ways of thinking and working, driven by indigenous knowledge, and guided by evidence-based science and digital technologies.

Understanding the influencing factors of agricultural technologies is essential in attaining and sustaining success.

Ultimately, the choice of interventions aimed at transforming the agri-food system in Africa boils down to the cost-effectiveness of innovation bundles to support the food systems transformation or inclusivity, nutrition, food safety, and reducing food losses and waste.

Dr Thulasizwe Mkhabela is an independent agricultural researcher and policy analyst. ([email protected])


Latest news
Related news
- Advertisement -