Agriculture is Africa’s untapped competitive advantage
By Raymond Mugisha
Primarily, food is the most important commodity to man. There is no scientific innovation that has since diminished the need for primary consumption of food in order to live, and neither is it foreseeable that the relevance of food to human existence will go away.
We, therefore, have no anticipatable alternative to food, in its basic form as plant and animal material. The only possible compromises to food consumption are achievable as tradeoffs on quality and quantity utilized per capita, but everyone must eat.
It is thus not worth debate that one that commands the most reliable and consistent food supply should rule the world. Without food, all other human accomplishments of sophistication in latest technology, warfare equipment, space science, and all other impressive fields of science will cease to make meaning. Even all other areas of knowledge pursued and held in high regard ultimately rely on well-fed human beings. There is no humanity without eating.
All other basic needs of man have registered significant evolution over the years, and actually history could trace their points of birth in the past. There are starting points for the adoption of utilization of other basic needs by man, as we know them today, in history. The same cannot be said of food. Whether it was eaten raw by ancient man, food has always had its prominent place with human existence.
Farming in Africa faces one major challenge from a social-cultural perspective. It has been previously perceived in many societies as the occupation of the underprivileged.
It is viewed as the work of mainly those that have failed to make it in pursuing formal education, as well as those who have had no chance at all to go to school. It is not rare of a typical African parent to warn their child to be serious with their schooling, lest they end up having to till the land for a living.
For those that attended schools in rural jurisdictions, a session of work in the school garden could be applied as a punishment for wrongdoing, as if to remind pupils and students how unfortunate it would be to end up engaged in this activity for a lifetime. Education has therefore been perceived as an escape route from farming in the past.
This is very unfortunate. It robes the vocation of food production of much needed manpower, lack of adequate private investment, and possibly also subconsciously influences the value that some leaders attach to the farming industry.
This can actually compromise focus on agriculture from national agendas to some extent, and possibly explains why Africa’s attention to agriculture remains wanting, even when it is obvious that the continent’s major competitive advantage, on the global scene, rests in her agriculture potential.
That Africa can feed the world, is not in doubt. Unfortunately, Africa cannot even feed herself in modern times. With sixty percent of global arable land, the continent currently imports about USD 35billion worth of food every year. There is no need to remind ourselves that our ancestors did not import any food in the past. As far as agricultural production is concerned therefore, overall, we are in retrogression mode as a continent. There is no progress to report, in the net position of our standing regarding food.
Without major reforms, this can only get worse. Our population is growing at a fast rate while our agricultural output is threatened by climate change. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), we waste about fifty percent of the food we produce and this could feed 300 million of our people.
The statistics of food production compared to hunger suggests that Africa actually produces more than enough to feed herself. We cannot afford to let such loss continue while our annual food import bill of USD35billion is bigger than the GDP of way more than half of our countries. To put it another way, as a continent, on annual basis, we throw away more than the entire worth in GDP of majority of our countries, in avoidable food imports.
According to FAO, in Africa, the bulk of wasted food is from post-harvest loss and consumer preferences. Also, the growing middle class in Africa has formed consumer habits with wasteful perceptions of what ‘ideal food’ is and thus huge amount of food gets wasted.
As a continent, we could use a thorough mindset change to, first of all, boost our agriculture sector and also to maximize what we produce. This is a required key ingredient of our progress.
Raymond is a Chartered Risk Analyst and risk management consultant