Is Africa neglecting its farmers?


Posted on Monday, 27 July 2009 00:00

Benjamin Mkapa?
Former president of Tanzania??

In terms of the provision of services directed towards peasant production in countries whose revenues are largely derived from primary commodity exports, clearly there is not much money spent on rural areas. In addition, non-food products cost much more in rural areas because of poor transportation and so on. So they have a raw deal. That is one of the principal reasons why you have this exodus from the rural areas into the cities. However much you campaign against this internal migration, everyone who comes into the cities believes they will have a better job in town – better than breaking their backs with primitive tools in agricultural production in the rural areas. This can only be fixed by concentrating government resources on agricultural transformation. As that improves, people will have larger incomes, and thus their appetite for industrial goods will be greater, promoting better linkages between the rural and urban areas.

Andrew Daudi?
First secretary, Ministry ?of Agriculture, Malawi

Our subsidy programme is the reversal of a long-term trend in Sub-Saharan Africa, whereby urban dwellers are prioritised over people who live in the rural areas. About 85% of Malawians are in the rural areas and that is where production is. That is why the government has now prioritised production in the rural areas. Of course, we are not forgetting the urban poor and industrialisation, but essentially, we have to empower at the grass-roots areas because all these exports are coming from the rural areas. For industries to survive, they need food. Our rural areas had been economically marginalised for too long. It is something that we had to address. For our farmers in the rural areas, the problem was the cost of the inputs (addressed by the government’s scheme to subsidise fertilisers for small farmers since 2005. The result has been high yields and the creation of an export maize crop). Previously we used to have 3.2m farming families. Now we have 3.4m farming families.

Akin Adesina?
Vice-president, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa

If you want to invest in the future, you have to invest in food. We all learnt that from the global food crisis. The received theory – that access to food was important, rather than the ability to produce food for yourself – was debunked. But solving this is not a problem of food aid. Per capita food production has declined for the last 30 years in Africa. This is why investing in the rural areas is so important. So they can feed their nations, as well as generating surpluses to export to the rest of the world. The Ghanaian government spends $500m on importing rice a year, mostly bought by urban people. But northern Ghana has 400,000ha of lowland rice areas, yielding 0.5t/ha. If we can increase yields to 2.5t/ha, Ghana will become a net rice exporter. A green revolution will bring the price of food down in urban areas, so real wages will rise. By turning the focus to farmers, the urban poor will benefit as well as the rural poor. l

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