Agriculture is a crucial economic activity, providing employment and livelihoods for many and serving as the basis for many industries. In most African countries, agriculture supports the survival and well-being of up to 70 percent of the population. Thus, for many, their livelihoods are directly affected by environmental changes, both sudden and gradual, which impact on agricultural productivity.
Livestock and environmental goods offer some security from such shocks. About 70 percent of the rural poor in Africa own livestock, contributing significantly to household and community resilience to disasters, particularly in arid and semi-arid zones. More than 200 million people rely on their livestock for income (sales of milk, meat, skins) and drought power. Overall, livestock contributes about 30 percent of the gross value of agricultural production in Africa. According to the International Livestock Research Center (ILRI), opportunities exist to commercialize livestock production to target regional deficits in livestock products where they can be produced competitively.
The irony is that, despite the majority of the total labor force working in agriculture, the region is still unable to feed its growing population. For example, between 20 and 75 percent of the population in 29 countries in Central, Western, Eastern and Southern Africa were reported to be undernourished. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where 75 percent of the total population of 51 million people were reported to be undernourished, 50 percent of infant mortality is related to malnutrition. Poor nutrition impacts on health, education and the opportunity to participate fully in community and public affairs. Most often women and children carry a disproportionate burden from food insecurity.
Africa spends more than US$20 billion on food imports annually, in addition to the US$2 billion it receives in food aid annually. These are vast amounts of money that the region can ill afford to externalize, and which could be used to revitalize agriculture, particularly the low-input agriculture whose yields are limited, and thus increase productivity. About 70 percent of Africa’s poor, and at least two-thirds of its population, live in rural areas depending mainly on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods.
Agriculture provides the opportunities to address extreme poverty in Africa, where the proportion of people living below the poverty line, of less than US$1 a day. As a result, more and more people in Africa have limited access to food and other basic amenities such as potable water, minimum health care and education, effectively limiting the opportunities available to them. Poverty and nutritional status are closely linked. About 26 percent of the people in Africa – more than 200 million people, particularly women and children – are undernourished; this is a reflection of poverty. It deepens other aspects of poverty such as incapacity to work and resistance to disease. It also affects children’s mental development and educational achievements.
Agriculture is not limited to subsistence food crops and livestock production but includes crops grown for sale, such as tobacco, cotton and flowers. Most agricultural households rely to some extent on sale of agricultural products. Thus, access to markets, finance and supporting infrastructure are crucial.
Horticulture, which includes vegetables, fruits and cut flowers, has become a major activity. It has grown to be the single largest category in world agricultural trade, accounting for over 20 percent of such trade in recent years. While in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), horticultural exports now exceed US$2,000 million, this is only 4 percent of the global total. Significant opportunities for expansion, therefore, exist in Africa to boost employment as well as foreign currency earnings. The challenges would be to adequately deal with environmental problems, which include pollution from chemicals.
An opportunity which is yet to be fully exploited is irrigated agriculture. Only six percent of the total cultivated land is under irrigation in Africa, compared to 33 percent in Asia. In a region where droughts are prevalent, often destroying crops and exacerbating food insecurity, irrigation could be a key factor in enhancing food security. Irrigation increases yields of most crops by between 100 and 400 percent, and it has been projected that in the next three decades, 70 percent of gains in cereal production globally would be from irrigated land. According to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), little progress towards sustainable development can be achieved until Africa reaches a minimum level of developing and managing water resources for secure food and agricultural production.
In order to maximize the potential of the agricultural sector, institutional and governance reforms which increase opportunities for rural people, such as better access to finance, and support the development of small and micro-enterprises is essential. Agricultural opportunities are closely linked to global trade policies and practices.
This is still the facts that are still true today. Our future is Agriculture. Let us do something about agriculture.
God bless Africa.
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