FEEDING THE URBAN AFRICA will be a significant challenge in the years ahead. The challenge will stem from general problems of daily influx of people into the cities. This will create a need for food, more food and more food. The volume, varieties and values of the food will vary depending on the level of inequalities in any particular city. The cities do not produce the food, but the rural communities do. Even urban agriculture, when looked at from very broad ramifications, is just a tip of the iceberg. Real food production takes place in the pristine, remote or sub-urban countryside. The relationship between the growing urban populace and the diminishing rural populace has to be put in perspective.
Although the future of the world points to urbanisation, there is hardly any way Africa’s urbanisation can be sustainable without a vibrant rural countryside. The two will continue to be related and interdependent. Policies addressing the unfolding urbanisation must therefore give consideration to the rural communities. These policies must do so, particularly from the backdrop of climate considerations. Urban dwellers need to realise and act early enough. There must a conscious attempt at letting the governments know that rural countryside cannot afford to be forgotten or neglected. The much-worried-about consideration about the economic distance between rural small scale farmers in terms of access to good roads, market and pricing of food is not going to disappear. Rather, it will become more problematic as farmers age and younger ones are not taking over.
This generational shift in attention will have significant impacts as economies of African countries undergo structural changes, from agrarian to industrial and service economies, the latter two being more attractive in terms of status and financial rewards. As the combination of capitalism and globalisation takes a toll on various countries within the continent, a great divide should be expected between the ‘haves’ and the ‘havenots.’ The expected consequences, mostly manifested as secular stagnation, will render the economies of the rural African communities irrelevant in quantum and in values. The absence of dependable agricultural value chains has created a fertile ground for middle men and non-farming agricultural stakeholders to reap far more benefits from agriculture than the primary producers.
The informal nature of the agricultural value chains, which remain weak at present, has not allowed the primary producers to reap adequate benefits from their labours and investments. The little or no interest of the financial institutions in agricultural lending has dealt a severe blow to agriculture, particularly the primary production. This has a cascading effect on the downstream agricultural sector, which includes agro-processing, among others. The reality of agro-processing cannot be ignored as one of the ways to ensure sustainable food supply is to process in order to achieve longer shelf life, better quality and stable prices in the markets. What obtains in the traditional food markets is the yearly and seasonal fluctuations of supply as well as prices of food items. Urban settings cannot therefore do without agro-processing.
The proponents of fresh food production all-year-round have a point. It is desirable to have them. But realities may not favour this henceforth. The quantity of food wastes in Africa could be better imagined!! Such wastes are more common in fresh foods, especially those that are highly perishable. It follows therefore that many urban consumers will still find it hard to get food to buy while a lot of food wastes away in the markets. Climate watchers have informed us that some moderate percentages of greenhouse gas emission are traceable to food wastes. Here are some perspectives: As long as farmers remain poor, subsistent and small scale operators, the challenge of aggregating food commodities as raw materials for processing will continue to be a significant hurdle. This is because of the challenge of quality assurance in processing. Currently, large scale industrial agriculture that produces farm outputs of uniform quality is not a commonplace.
The rapidly expanding urban centres all over Africa are encroaching fast on what should be agricultural lands. Thus, agricultural lands are reducing at an increasing rate. A cursory observation of variations in satellite images over a period of some years will reveal and confirm this disturbing trend. Urban planners and administrators need to bring this into political, developmental, food security and climate resilience considerations. It is surprising what those countries that signed on specific commitment on Nationally Determined Contributions had in mind as they appended their signatures on COP15 documents in Paris few years ago. The peculiar situation being elaborated upon here should be looked upon as of urgent importance, relevant to Africa and should be treated as such.
Official incompetence in championing or promoting rural development is exemplified by the typical Nigerian situation in which case cattle rearing has remained – till today – very difficult to manage. The animals, which could and should be kept in the ranches, roam about freely with herds seen almost daily in urban centres and – more pathetically – within the centre of the nation’s capital, Abuja. The argument seeking to justify this on the ground of climate change is mediocre at its very best and mischievous at its worst. Going by the arguments of the proponents of Green New Deal, a new global standard may soon emerge that would become the ‘gold standard’ for countries and individuals rearing ruminants. Climate activists may soon begin to make a case for environmentally compliant beef or milk. Those aspiring to export or sell locally at premium prices may soon find big hurdles coming their ways in their attempts to raise livestock, particularly cattle, sheep and goats. The nomads and the itinerant herdsmen that trespass on crop farms and those that attack innocent people while protecting their animals may soon be on the edge of a cliff.
Food and nutrition are issues that cannot be ignored in the unfolding urbanisation trends. Most households below the middle class spend upwards of a third of their income on foods, a third on house rents and commuting, while the other third goes for miscellaneous expenses. In some cases, household spending on foods goes above 30 per cent of income. Whatever affects food production will have a cascading or domino effect on the household budgets of urban dwellers more than those within rural communities. Whether fresh, raw, unprocessed or processed, the prices of food items are higher in the urban centres than the rural areas, with some exceptions. As nations within the continent urbanise, a more critical view of the nexus between the urban and the rural communities in terms of food security should be on the front burner.
Without proper consideration for this, African urban centres are just beginning to prepare the way for more and more slums, inadequately fed urban dwellers with stunted physical and mental development, minions and people with little ability to compete intellectually. The huge opportunities hidden in the unfolding urbanisation of Africa must be converted to advantage by planners, policy makers, politicians and leaders of thought. Business prospects in food production and other post-production activities need deliberate support and encouragements. Statutes and laws to protect the rural countryside from unplanned incursions and destructions of rural natural habitats need to be enacted and implemented with gusto. The generational shift and prospects of the coming generations have to be considered, with sustainability plans and programmes in mind. Feeding future urban Africa will be a herculean task except a delicate balance is struck between urban development and rural development. The time to do that is now. Delay may be costlier, uncertain in consequences and regrettable.