Opinion : The future of farming in Africa is not agriculture but agribusiness
Africa is a farm lover’s dream: abundant uncultivated arable land, roughly over half the global total; tropical climates that permit long growing seasons; a young labor force; and an expanding population that provides a readily available market for produce consumption.
Yet, African countries are yet to harness these opportunities to ensure sustainable food security and food production. The average age of farmers is about 60 years—in a continent where 60% of the population is under 24 years of age. Farmers are also less educated, with younger, more educated Africans are leaving rural areas, where farms are located, and moving to cities.
Some of these youngsters are also discouraged by the difficulties of accessing funds or land, the reliance on manual technology in smallholder agriculture, all compounded by the low and volatile profits.
But to remedy these issues, a new report suggests governments should change their outlook on agriculture from a subsistence, daily activity into a commercial enterprise. The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) says focusing on the entire value chain of the process—land tenure, farming technology, markets, and pricing—would help transform food systems around the continent. Positioning farming “as a business and entrepreneurial endeavor” would also help draw younger people into the practice, and make them see it as less of a “cool” idea and more as a “career option.”
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, a commercial farmer himself, told Quartz in an interview last month that he sees agribusiness as one of the few sectors that can “create the quantum of jobs needed for Africa’s youth.”
This marked transformation could be instituted by boosting productivity within the farms and bolstering the link between the farms and other economic segments. For instance, strengthening land tenure privileges ensures the rights of women and minorities and increases the formality of property rights.
Technology and mobile phones should also be increasingly adopted as a way to not only to reach farmers, but also as a mechanism for data collection and analysis on soil conditions, fertilizer application, and climate change. Mechanization should also be expanded in order to ease the back-breaking manual labor and increase yields.
And just like in the modern workplace, the report notes that women should be put on an equal footing with men in order to drive agricultural transformation in Africa. Many countries still have laws governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance, which still put a barrier against women land ownership—and hinder them from using their plots as collateral for loans.