Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) President, Agnes Kalibata made the remarks during the 2016 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) recently in Nairobi.
She said that on some 65 percent of Africa’s farmable lands, soils lack necessary nutrients, and many farmers lack the inputs and technical knowledge to revive them.
“That’s costing African farmers at least US$68 million in lost income opportunities. For example, African farmers cultivating new, improved varieties of maize and other crops see only a 28 percent bump in yields on average while farmers in Asia harvest an 88 percent increase,” said Kalibata.
She further said that urban and rural Africa are increasingly connected by agriculture. Urban consumers are driving a lucrative market for food products that could be worth US$1 trillion by 2030, generating significant income and employment opportunities for African farmers and food companies though that demand is now being met with a hefty serving of food imports.
“City dwellers also are increasingly pursuing farming as a business.
Evidence from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia finds urban households control 15 to 35 percent of Africa’s farmlands. That’s injecting more capital and technology into African agriculture, but it’s also increasing competition for land,” she added.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NEPAD Agency, Dr Ibrahim Mayaki said that obtaining financing for production improvements remains a major challenge for rural Africans.
While reports note promising development of products like crop insurance tied to weather indexes, farm loan programmes that share the risk among many participants, and innovative uses of mobile banking services and microfinance, only about 6 percent of rural households in sub-Saharan Africa are borrowing from a formal financial institution.
Mayaki added that investments allocated to agricultural research and extension services have fallen precisely when they are needed most. At a time when climate change is producing intense demand for crop varieties and other innovations that can help farmers adapt, investments are not keeping up.
For example, expenditures in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania in 2014 represented only 1.4 percent or less than overall budget allocations to agriculture.
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission Rhoda Peace said that Africa has the world’s largest population of people under 20 years old and they could provide the intellectual capital to power major growth in the agriculture sector.
“Often discussed as more of a burden than a benefit, the right mix of policy and public investments can create a wide range of economic opportunities that could allow Africa to reap a demographic dividend from its incredibly youthful workforce.
Conversely, if governments do not focus on policies that will get youth engaged in agriculture, authors warn we could see widespread youth unemployment and disillusionment,” she said.
She further said that ultimately, Africa in 2016 is a continent making notable progress toward realising its agriculture potential, but one that still has long way to go. Africa’s ambitious goals for eradicating hunger and dramatically reducing poverty by 2030 are attainable.
But fulfilling them requires strong political leadership at home that is backed by solid commitments from donor countries and international institutions and robust investments from the private sector.