Agriculture can advance Africa’s economic growth

28Sep 2020
Editor
The Guardian
Agriculture can advance Africa’s economic growth

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock.  Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands-

-of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Modern agronomy, plant breeding, agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers, and technological developments have sharply increased yields, while causing widespread ecological and environmental damage. Selective breeding and modern practices in animal husbandry have similarly increased the output of meat, but have raised concerns about animal welfare and environmental damage. Environmental issues include contributions to global warming, depletion of aquifers, deforestation, antibiotic resistance, and growth hormones in industrial meat production. Genetically modified organisms are widely used, although some are banned in certain countries.

The major agricultural products can be broadly grouped into foods, fibers, fuels and raw materials (such as rubber). Food classes include cereals (grains), vegetables, fruits, oils, meat, milk, fungi and eggs. Over one-third of the world's workers are employed in agriculture, second only to the service sector, although the number of agricultural workers in developed countries has decreased significantly over the centuries.

The 2020 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR) has been launched at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) virtual summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

This year’s AASR focuses on Feeding Africa’s Cities by assessing the opportunities, challenges and policies required to enable African farmers and agribusinesses to serve the rapidly growing urban food markets. The report seeks to find ways for smallholder farmers to drive food security, rural prosperity, and inclusive economic growth.

“This report highlights the opportunity for all agriculture industry stakeholders to bring together viewpoints that define the transformation agenda while outlining the practical next steps to an agricultural revolution,” said Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

The report begins by outlining the opportunities provided by Africa’s urban food markets to the continent’s 60 million farms. It indicates that cities shape Africa’s agribusiness environment by affecting patterns of agricultural production and inducing the rapid expansion of food processing and distribution plans.

Subsequent chapters touch on the opportunities in Africa’s growing urban food markets while recognizing that the effective governance of urban food systems requires inclusive models that coordinate and harmonize the actions of the many diverse players now shaping African agri-food systems.

While recognizing the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its role in exacerbating existing economic and social inequalities, the report defines five focus areas in a bid to overcome the problem of urban under-nutrition and accelerate the urgency of urban food system planning.

These focus areas are improved urban food system governance; efficient urban wholesale markets; food safety regulation and enforcement; regional free trade and agricultural policy harmonization; and agricultural research focused on high-growth, high-value food commodities.

Domestic food distribution systems, intra-African trade and food safety are the other themes of the report leading to the conclusion that improved urban food system governance and performance can create new opportunities for Africa to transform its agricultural endeavours into thriving businesses.

The report was launched at the 10th edition of the AGRF, an annual gathering that has this year brought together 4,000 delegates including heads of state and government, agriculture ministers, members of the civil society, private sector leaders, scientists and farmers in discussions to find ways of feeding Africa’s increasing urban populations.

This is the first time in history that the AGRF is held virtually, in line with COVID-19 containment measures.

The theme of the Forum is Feed the Cities, Grow the Continent: Leveraging Urban Food Markets to Achieve Sustainable Food Systems in Africa, a call to action to rethink Africa’s food systems in the delivery of resilient, better nourished, and more prosperous outcomes for all.

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