We need to boost Africa's food production and food security

21Oct 2021
The Guardian
We need to boost Africa's food production and food security

More than six out of every 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa work in the continent's agriculture sector. We may not realise that what grows from African soil may be connected to some of the world's most popular foods. Africa produces the world's largest supply of cocoa, used in chocolate-

- bars and other products. Ethiopia and Uganda-grown coffee beans, which dominate Africa's coffee exports, valued at nearly $2 billion last year.

The volume of African commodity exports is rising. At the same time, more Africans are facing food insecurity. Around 246 million Africans go to bed hungry every night. The pace of Africa's agricultural growth is not keeping up with Africa's population growth.

It is time for African and global leaders, as well as development organisations, to join the African Development Bank Group's call for increased investments in agricultural technologies that boost Africa's food production and food security in the face of climate change.

The continent has immense potential to feed itself and to become a breadbasket to the world: about 65 percent of Earth's remaining uncultivated, arable land is in Africa. However, that potential is threatened by erratic weather extremes. It is also stunted because a majority of African food growers are subsistence smallholder farmers. We need to scale up delivery of modern and climate-smart farming practices.

The African Development Bank Group's investments are helping African farmers put more food in the mouths of more Africans. Since the Bank launched its Feed Africa Strategy in 2015, more than 74 million people are benefiting from access to improved agricultural technologies, resulting in higher food production.

Our flagship program, Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) has provided 11 million farmers across 29 African countries with proven agricultural technologies such as drought-resistant maize, heat-resistant wheat, higher-yielding seed varieties and seed treatments to protect against pests like the fall armyworm, which has been devastating African crops in waves of hungry, winged swarms.

Agriculture is by far the single most important economic activity in Africa. It provides employment for about two-thirds of the continent’s working population and for each country contributes an average of 30 to 60 per cent of gross domestic product and about 30 per cent of the value of exports. Nonetheless, arable land and land under permanent crops occupy only about 6 per cent of Africa’s total land area.

Except for countries with sizable populations of European descent—such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya—agriculture has been largely confined to subsistence farming and has been considerably dependent on the inefficient system of shifting cultivation, in which land is temporarily cultivated with simple implements until its fertility decreases and then abandoned for a time to allow the soil to regenerate.

In addition, over most of Africa arable land generally has been allocated through a complex system of communal tenure and ownership rather than through individually acquired title, and peasant farmers have had rights to use relatively small and scattered holdings. This system of land ownership has tended to keep the intensity of agricultural production low and has inhibited the rate at which capital has been mobilized for modernizing production.

TAAT has produced astonishing results in under three years. African food production has expanded by more than 12 million metric tons. TAAT has reduced Africa's food imports worth $814 million. We are on our way to reaching our target of reaching 40 million farmers with modern and climate-resilient technologies. We are on the right path, but we need to do more. At a recent “Feeding Africa” event hosted by the Bank and the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, more than a dozen African heads of state and other world leaders endorsed the creation of a Financing Facility for Food and Nutrition in Africa.