Collaboration, Technology Crucial For Improving Food Security In Africa
By Joyce Ojanji and Sharon Atieno
The food security situation in Africa remains alarming with about 282 million people being undernourished and hungry, this is despite 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land being found on the continent. Prof. Karim Maredia, Professor College of Agriculture and Natural resources, Michigan State University (African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) member), USA explains what Africa can do to harness its potential to become food secure and a net exporter.
What are some of the major challenges ailing agriculture in Africa?
Climate change, soil health, pest outbreaks, drought, access to inputs and post-harvest losses are some of the biggest issues. So much food is lost after it is harvested, during the handling, transportation, processing, storage, and distribution before it reaches the consumers. Africa produces lots of food but doesn’t efficiently use what is produced. We need to produce what we eat, and eat what we produce!
Low productivity of food security crops and commercialization of crops is also a major issue. And this can be enhanced through efficient use of modern technologies and new production methods. And if we do not have appropriate policies, regulatory environment, institutional support structures as well as investments in science and technology we are not going to harness it.
What can Africa do to become food secure?
The situation is very complex and this will require commitments from the governments and all the stakeholders to work together towards a common goal to make Africa food secure. This will require some policy reforms, institutional innovations and support structures, functional regulatory systems, and investments in appropriate infrastructure and human capital to address the key challenges affecting the African food systems.
The hallmark of agriculture in Africa is smallholder farmers and one way that we can make these smallholder farmers productive is bringing them together in small or big groups and linking them to local, regional and international markets.
What are some of the policies that need to be reformed?
The policies related to investments in agricultural science, technology and innovations (STI), creating favorable environment for public and private sector working together, building functional regulatory systems by the governments.
What are the short-term goals toward solving the food insecurity in Africa?
There are many technologies that are ready to go. If the regulatory approvals of these technologies can be fast-tracked, they can be commercialized, scaled-up and utilized by farmers and end-users.
How do we harness youth resources in agriculture with regards to emerging technologies?
Youths are very much fascinated with digital and modern information technologies. Youths are looking at agriculture and farming differently from the way their parents and grandparents looked at it. They are looking at agriculture as a business enterprise. If agriculture can be transformed into modernized farming, youths will find it more attractive because they are born and brought up in a very different environment than their parents and grandparents.
Youths want to see agriculture as more of a business enterprise where they can generate income. And that’s where areas like smart farming, food processing, marketing, regional and international trade are very important. We have to balance between producing food security crops and producing high value crops for export markets. We need to create an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs to flourish, by making agriculture more viable and attractive to youth.
Agriculture should not be viewed as just farming crops; it is so diverse. It involves livestock and poultry sector, fisheries sector, floriculture, bee keeping, mushroom farming, among others. Agriculture can be converted into a business that young people can find attractive.
Food and agriculture should be looked at globally, not just for or within Africa. Countries should be able to produce locally and export not just relying on imports alone. Take for instance wheat import dependent countries from Russia and Ukraine have been severely affected by the recent Russia-Ukraine war.
Africa is a resource rich continent and can feed its own people and export farm produce by making agriculture more productive, reducing on post-harvest losses, and putting the appropriate policies and institutional support structures in place. Creating an enabling environment for all the stakeholders to work together is critical!
The solution to African food security cannot just rely on governments alone, all the stakeholders need to work together – governments, private sector, non-governmental organizations, universities, research institutions, farmers and consumers groups.
The government’s role is to support and regulate. It’s the private sector that takes the technologies and commercializes them. The universities are providing education and training. But at the end of the day, they all need to work together towards achieving a common goal of improving agricultural sector productivity. They should not work in isolation but work together.