Why Africa does not need food help

By Yara Rizk
Posted on Monday, 27 December 2021 13:17

A woman works in the field of Loi Bangoti's farm
A woman works in the field of Loi Bangoti's farm in Ngiresi near the Tanzanian town of Arusha, 2007. (AP Photo/Karel Prinsloo, File)

What's the path to ensuring Africa's agricultural renaissance? UNDP economist Ayodele Odusola dissects the paradoxes of the African agricultural sector and outlines the path to meeting that goal.

In Africa’s Agricultural Renaissance: From Paradox to Powerhouse, Odusola aims to provide an innovative framework on the needs and opportunities of the agricultural sector in Africa, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About 60% of Africa’s poor could be lifted out of poverty if agriculture was transformed and African farmers moved from their current way of life to a profitable, entrepreneurial activity.

Ayodele Odusola, who holds a PhD in economics from the University of Ibandan, Nigeria, is the director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Financial Sector Centre on the continent, based in Pretoria, South Africa. In his book, the researcher demonstrates and lists the positive consequences of improved agricultural productivity in an area that is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.

Turning challenges into opportunities

For this expert, it is time for Africa to transform the challenges of the agricultural sector into opportunities, by accompanying micro-farmers on the road to commercialisation. According to his estimates, if 60% of micro-farmers convert to entrepreneurial agriculture and manage to sell at least 90% of their production, a significant portion of the population would be lifted from poverty and Africa will be able to feed its population without much difficulty.

UNDP economist Ayodele Odusola

“About 60% of Africa’s poor could be lifted out of poverty if agriculture was transformed and African farmers moved from their current way of life to a profitable, entrepreneurial activity,” says the UNDP economist. “If Africa accelerates its agricultural productivity and value chains, Africa’s agribusiness sector could reach an output of $3.7trn by 2030, nearly double the continent’s current GDP level, which would reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment,” he tells us.

This transition will obviously not happen overnight. Experts believe it will take about 20 years to achieve.

According to Odusola, achieving this increased productivity will require technology and know-how. To access these two essential components, independent small-scale farmers will have to join forces to reach different consumer markets and achieve economies of scale that will further stimulate the development of agribusinesses.

Spending differently

“We don’t want Africa to export commodities because in doing so it exports jobs. We export raw products abroad where they are processed and then sold on the continent for almost ten times more,” says Odusola.

To break this vicious circle, Africa must “spend differently”. Indeed, African countries spend about €70bn on food imports, which absorbs 60% of their foreign reserves per year, adds Odusola. For the UN expert, “this money should be used for other purposes, such as investment in knowledge and machinery”, so that the continent can be self-sufficient and help feed the rest of the world.

Also, for the Nigerian economist: “Africa does not need food aid; it needs food production and production capacity.”

According to him, the greatest help that developed countries can provide will not come from sending food, but from the transfer of technical and technological knowledge that will pave the way for an upstream in the agricultural sector.

Given that the average African farmer is 60 years old, the transmission of know-how and education of the younger generation in a continent where 60% of the population is under 25 years old is crucial. “Young Africans need teachers to develop their entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of ecosystems in order to use agriculture for economic transformation.”

An ‘ecosystem’ approach

One of the main obstacles to developing Africa’s agricultural sector remains the lack of policy support and mentoring. “Sometimes, some farmers produce less to avoid lowering market prices, because too much supply will result in lower unit prices. This is what farmers fear,” says Odusola.

To avoid such a regressive “regulation” of the market, the economist is banking on the establishment of a “reservoir system” to build up stocks that will be used in times of crisis to continue to supply the market with raw materials.

“This will help fight inflation and shortages,” he says.  An official body must be set up to ensure that a certain price level is maintained, both in times of abundance and shortage, to protect both producers and consumers, he adds.

It is a question of stopping the rural exodus by improving living conditions on the spot so that the local populations can live off the land by exchanging their products on the markets.

“Public policies will have to accompany these small farmers,” explains the UNDP executive, who cites, as an example, the agricultural policies implemented in Ethiopia – which before the conflict “raised 2.5 million micro-farmers to the rank of commercial farmers” – as well as the Green Morocco Plan, which has made it possible to “create 342,000 additional jobs, expand the area under cultivation and diversify crops”.

Creation of ad hoc structures

To meet these challenges, the economist advocates for a continent-wide ecosystem approach. “Governments will have to collaborate with each other and with the private sector, development partners, the international community, individuals, etc.”

For the Nigerian researcher, Africa needs a “Green Revolution Bank” to galvanise the necessary agricultural breakthroughs, devoting at least 10% of official development assistance to funding them.

(Palgrave Macmillan, 2021)

“For example, we will have to adopt a credit guarantee system for rural areas, as is the case in Brazil and Argentina,” he adds. This bank should also carry out advisory and coaching missions for farmers.

Such a reference institution would also aim to provide financial resources and logistical support directly in rural areas by ensuring access to basic infrastructure such as electricity and running water. “It is a question of stopping the rural exodus by improving living conditions on the spot so that the local populations can live off the land by exchanging their products on the markets,” says Odusola.

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