The agricultural potential of Africa

By: HENRY XUAN


posted on: May 17th, 2018

Agriculture and farming is the largest economic sector in Africa making up about 15% of total output. However, Africa has a growing population with a large demand for food. While the agricultural sector is large, there are still many improvements that can be made.

African agriculture has the potential to feed its own continent and world population. A global management consultancy company, McKinsey, suggests that Africa has 25% of the world’s arable land. This is land that is fertile and capable of growing crops. However, the land is underused and can be used more productively. Currently, only 10% of world agricultural output comes from Africa.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Every sector of the economy improves from investment in infrastructure. For example, if transport networks are improved, farmers can more effectively deliver their produce to factories to be processed. However, there are some things that the agricultural sector itself can do to improve productivity.

It is important for all farms in Africa to use modern methods wherever they are available. The World Bank found that many small farms in Sub-Saharan Africa do not use fertiliser. These help crops grow large and healthy by providing them with nutrition. This increases output. Giving the crops nutrition directly also means that the farmland is not drained of its natural nutrients. This increases crop harvests in the future. Many larger farms in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Malawi are using this but smaller farms can improve output if they follow.

Increasing the use of machines can also improve harvests. For example, tractors can be used quickly plough farmland and sow seeds to grow crops quickly. Another method is improving irrigation. Irrigation uses machines like sprinklers to control the amount of water that is delivered to plants. This makes sure that water is used effectively so none is wasted and crops do not die in times of low rainfall.

Increasing research can also lead to better quality seeds. These seeds are more resistant to extreme weather conditions and can produce a larger amount of healthy crops.

For example, an agricultural research team called CIMMYT launched a project to produce drought-tolerant maize seeds. In times of lower rainfall, the maize crops should be better able to survive. The project aims to produce 12,000 tons of seed for 400,000 households in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. This maize is used to produce cornmeal which is a large part of the diets of many people. For example, it is used in Zambia to make nshima.

These advances in technology in the agricultural industry can greatly improve production to make sure there is more food for everybody.

THE CHALLENGE

Even though Africa has great agricultural potential, investment in agriculture is very low. Farmers often have little access to credit from banks so they are often not able to take out loans to buy machines and improve their productivity. Governments are encouraging a lot of investment in overall transport infrastructure, which do benefit the farming sector, but there is a lot of investment that could be done directly in agriculture.

Governments should therefore also encourage investors to invest in agriculture. Government spending could also be increased to improve agriculture directly. This is a barrier that must be overcome for Africa to fulfil its huge farming potential.

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