VULNERABILITIES OF AFRICA IN TERMS of the future of food are many and varied. Foreigners seem to see them more clearly than Africans do. Foreign investors, either private, corporate or even governments are projecting into the future, trying to figure out how to feed their people and make money without being bogged down by the rites of importation and customs expenses. Since 2008, “land grabbing” has become a global issue, involving large-scale land acquisitions mainly by private investors but also by public investors and agribusiness that buy farmland or lease it on a long-term basis to produce agricultural commodities. The practice gained notoriety for the modus operandi as international investors, as well as the public, semi-public or private sellers, “often operate in legal grey areas and in a no man’s land between traditional land rights and modern forms of property. In many cases of land grabbing, one could speak of a land reform from above, or of the establishment of new colonial relationships imposed by the private sector.” This was the observation in a publication of Global Agriculture: Agriculture at a crossroads. Land grab in Africa by Asians and prospectors from the Middle East should be a basis for concerns for African leaders, not a thing to be treated with levity: while those are seriously projecting about the future of feeding their population, what is Africa doing in the process?
It exposed “the problem of unfair distribution of land, which has existed for many centuries, as well as approaches to agrarian reforms and communal land use.” The Brookings Institution explained the problem thus: “Transnational land acquisitions, infamously referred to as land grabbing, has increasingly become an important policy concern in Africa as acquisitions have grown in scale and number. The practice involves the purchase or lease of large tracts of land by foreign nations, companies or individuals for agricultural production. … The investors are resource seeking instead of market seeking. Therefore, they are effectively using the land or water of a country solely for agricultural repatriation and not for commercial export. The scale of such land acquisitions has increased greatly. From 2004 to early 2009, at least 2.5 million hectares were transferred in five African countries alone. Recent estimates point to land acquisitions that each encompass millions of hectares of land. Of concern is that the land leased by African governments to foreign interests was previously occupied by poor local and indigenous populations who have little control over such land transfers.” Globally, Africa accounts for 42 per cent of the deals, and 10 million hectares of land so grabbed. What this brings to light is the problem of institutional failures and limited control of governments over lands in their territories. It will therefore remain difficult to institute or operate any coherence policy on agricultural land in most of the Sub-Saharan Africa under the present circumstances. Africa therefore has no future strategy for food security based on agricultural lands.
Emergency preparedness against agricultural pests and diseases in Africa still remains patchy and inconsistent. According to survey findings, production of numerous crops has declined sharply as a result of major pest and disease outbreaks, and others are threatened with major decline because of a surge in virulence of an endemic pest or disease, the introduction of a virulent exotic pest or pathogen, or because a system of control used previously has collapsed. Sharing data or emergency information across border is still poorly done. Otherwise, the locust that devastated Uganda in 2020 could have been brought under control early. Moreover, governments of countries over-reacted on COVID-19 lockdown that they made no difference on agriculture and farmers who were supposed to have freedom of movement because of the nature of their own businesses. It was gathered that, because of the over-zealousness of many countries’ governments, many food products got wasted during the lockdown as farmers’ movements were largely restricted. Market information service that is expected to provide “transparency,” or a full awareness of all parties of prevailing market prices and other relevant information, is not yet of widespread use in Africa. Adequate, appropriate and timely market information service is expected to boost agricultural production, enable farmers to reap higher income and reduce post-harvest wastage. But, although some countries are already adopting market information service, such an adoption is still sparsely used and hardly in digital forms. Some are able to use such information for “arbitrage,” buying at a lower price and selling at a higher price.” Emergency preparedness on weather is also poorly adopted. Weather forecast data are not yet available to many rural farmers. Many countries have not seen the essence of promoting digital access by farmers to weather reports despite the available technologies of mobile telephony that could bring such information to farmers’ doorsteps.
One of the solutions to post-harvest wastage of crops is the adoption of on-site processing technologies for preliminary processing, as in the case of cassava, rice or corn. These, appropriately used, have the potential of minimising the wastes and saving more from the harvest while also providing greater number of on-farm jobs. Moreover, such technologies are sparsely used as many policy makers and politicians seem to despise them, preferring rather the grandiose equipment that may cost far more to operate and maintain. Africa’s poor rural infrastructure still plays a role in ensuring more post-harvest wastes in farms that are on difficult terrains and difficult to reach. Strategic food reserves appear to be taking a back seat nowadays in Africa. Experiences in recent times seem to bear this out. Food items meant for long term storage seem to be diminishing in supplies and not much of the harvested products are processed for longer shelf life. Commercial banks shun agricultural investments on the excuses of high risks. Many promising local agro-investors have been hamstrung by funds for operations.
The constraints of CGIAR centres in Africa have been earlier mentioned. Apart from the four headquartered in Africa, every other CGIAR centre has presence in various parts of Africa on specific mandates. The fact that all of these CGIAR centres are largely donor-dependent places a big constraint on their regional operations as donor fatigue and national funding restrictions have reduced their scope of operations. As long as African countries choose not to fund these centres and their own National Research Institutes, agriculture in Africa will continue to suffer serious setback because these lines of defence will remain weak and unable to prepare the countries for challenges ahead. Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), established in 2006, is a donor dependent organisation that seeks to transform African agriculture from a subsistence model to strong businesses that improve the livelihoods of the continent’s farming households. It’s impacts in various parts of Africa have become notable, but its major constraint remains the limits to donor funds available for its operation at any given time. If such an NGO could make some impacts here and there, why couldn’t national governments that have more secure and predictable access to funds for operation?
Sub-Saharan Africa is undergoing rapid transformation due to increasing urbanisation, income and lifestyles changes, intensification and homogenisation of farming systems, and climate change. Governments in various parts of Africa must reckon with the nexus between urbanisation, food security and environmental degradation. Deliberate policies should be focused on designation and demarcation of agricultural land from lands for urban development. From Khartoum to Kigali, Lusaka to Lagos, Nairobi to N’Djamena or Yaounde to Yenagoa, the nature of city sprawling is the same. Cities in Africa are expanding haphazardly and the suburbs are sprawling without control. Financial attraction in estate development makes land sales more attractive for buildings and less so for agriculture. A time has come to determine the priorities, setting apart agricultural lands by official gazette. It is important to secure land tenure, property rights and other forms of common ownership, including access to water as the Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt’s Nile Dam logjam is now teaching us. Africa still heavily depends on food donations. And this does not bode well for the continent in terms of food security, occasioned by adverse weather, internal displacement as a result of hostilities and terrorism or simple economic crisis. Of the total $8.471.801.083 contribution to the World Food Programme (WFP) in 2020, the US gave $3.665.194.383. Germany gave $1.179.566.609, United Kingdom gave $561.652.438, the European Commission gave $537.496.251 while Canada gave $244.260.296. In Africa, it was interesting to observe that Somalia contributed $92.000.000, while Nigeria gave $1.131.649, lower than Cameroon, DR Congo, or even Gambia. Of the six regions mostly at food risk according to the WFP, four have been identified in Africa. Turning this situation around is a huge task that Africa must rigorously face.
Environmental research and agricultural research are very important in today’s quest for food security. Where the environmental natural resources are being plundered unabated due to livelihoods pressure, the repercussions on agriculture could be damaging. For instance, the indiscriminate tree felling to make charcoal or firewood for cooking is very significant as there is hardly any replacement through replanting of trees. The various vegetation belts therefore gradually undergo some permanent changes. Based on the vulnerability of Africa’s gene banks, it is important to ensure that it draws from its store of seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault backup to preserve biodiversity and aid food security. Sustainable livelihoods are of essence if the environment is to be preserved. The Sustainable Development Goals have about five points at which Africa must measure up to overcome hunger poverty, health and environment. While external help is good, Africa needs to wean itself from dependence on food donations, produce its own food in excess and be involved in donating to other parts of the world that are food insecure. The time has come for that.
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