By Emmanuel Ntirenganya
The current situation where Africa spends $35 billion annually on food imports is not acceptable. If the current trend continues, Africa is estimated to spend $110 billion by 2025 on food imports. Ultimately, rising food imports hurt farmers in Africa, Akinwumi Adesina, World Food Prize Laureate 2017 and President of the African Development Bank, has said.
Adesina was delivering his remarks at the Special Event on “Transforming the African Savannah Initiative”, World Food Prize, October 18, 2017, in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.
The session was organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
“Cheap food imports decimate rural economies, displace farmer incomes, and divert scarce foreign exchange. Instead, they replace what Africa should be producing very well, and make it impossible to create millions of jobs for young people that Agriculture indeed can provide,” Adesina observed.
The challenge ahead of us, Adesina noted, is how to unlock the potential of Africa to feed itself and to help feed the world.
“The challenge of addressing global food security is greatest in Africa where close to 300 million are malnourished. It is also the only region of the world where the proportion of the population that is food insecure has increased,” Adesina said.
The report titled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,” states that the number of hungry people in the world went up to 815 million, representing 11% of the world’s total population (currently 7.2 billion), compared to 777 million in 2015.
Considering the size of the population by region and the affected people, Africa has the highest number malnourished people in the world, as about one in four people on the continent suffers from malnutrition.
Yet, he said, Africa holds the key for feeding the 9 billion people that will be on the planet earth by 2050.
This is because Africa sits on 65% of the uncultivated arable land left in the world, Adesina pointed out, noting that what Africa does with agriculture will undoubtedly determine the future of food in the world.
“There is therefore absolutely no reason for Africa to be a food-importing region. Africa has huge potentials in agriculture,” he said.
Unlocking Africa’s potential through modernising agriculture
Adesina said that more than ever before, “we must help Africa to rapidly modernize its agriculture and unlock its full potential.”
Unlocking that potential must start with the savannas of Africa, which the AfDB leader said cover a mind-boggling 600 million hectares, of which 400 million hectares are cultivable.
“But just 10% of this is cultivated, a mere 40 million hectares,” he said.
Africa’s savannas are not that different from those of Brazil, Adesina said explaining that, indeed, they are better than the savannas of Brazil, because their soils are not acidic and therefore do not need liming which had to be done at massive scales in Brazil.
“Yet, while the savannas of Brazil feed the world, those of Africa cannot even feed the farmers there. Technologies, innovations, research and development, mechanization, modernization of agriculture, policy support and massive investments in infrastructure are what made the difference and turned the savannahs of Brazil and those of Northern Thailand into food powerhouses,” Adesina stressed.
Effective combination of smallholder farmers, and large commercial farmers
To transform its agriculture, Adesina pointed out, Africa needs to make a decisive decision to develop new agrarian systems, one that combines smallholder farmers with a new dynamic generation of medium and large commercial farmers.
“Large commercial farmers played a huge role in Brazil, while in northern Thailand it was built around small farmers. One common thread in both agricultural revolutions, was the rapid growth of the private sector and public policies that allowed these regions to interphase with external markets,” he same said informingbtgat today, Brazil dominates global soybean production. Thailand dominates global rice and cassava markets.
The African Development Bank’s Feed Africa strategy has launched the Transformation of the African Savannah Initiatives (TASI) to help unlock the potential of the savannas of Africa.
The initiative will start by bringing approximately 2 million hectares of savannah in eight African countries – Ghana, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and Mozambique – under the cultivation of maize, soybean, and livestock production in optimum conditions.
“Africa must learn from the experiences that have worked elsewhere, while tailoring the interventions to the specific realities of Africa. We must ensure that small, medium scale and large-scale commercial farmers co-exist in a way that allows opportunities for all,” he recommended.
There is a critical need for supportive public policies and significant investments in infrastructure, especially for roads, irrigation, storage, warehousing and agro-processing, according to Adesina.
The African Development Bank is investing $24 billion in agriculture over the next ten years to help unlock the potential of agriculture and assure food security for the continent.
The $250,000 World Food Prize 2017 went to Dr. Adesina in June 2017 “for helping Africa get it right in agriculture and making it a key player of securing food for the world; highlighting his role in improving the availability of seed, fertilizer and financing for African farmers, and for laying the foundations for the youth in Africa to engage in agriculture as a profitable business.”