A Prospective African Leader’s Blueprint for Unlocking the Agricultural Potentials of Africa

Image Credit: Dreamstime

Fellow Africans,

It gives me great pleasure to have an opportunity to address you all today. Growing up in the largely rural town of Ogbomosho in Oyo State, Nigeria, I realised, long ago, the importance of agriculture to the average Nigerian family — and by extension — the average African family. I watched the local farmer cultivate his acres of land — the larger percentage of whose produce goes to feed his family. I watched the lawyer employ labour in the cultivation of some plots of land — in a bid to augment his salary, yes, but more so as a venture he is naturally drawn to; a venture he grew up knowing. Agriculture, to the average African, is needful. In my homeland, every other piece of land is a farm. Given that the average African family is actively involved in agriculture, does the future hold green for Africa?

40%, 13%, 50%, 2030, $1 trillion, 24%, 2050, and $25 billion are some of the figures we must pay close attention to, whenever we think of Africa and agriculture. These figures are not fuddled mathematical expressions from the mind of a not-so-mathematically-smart African, far from it. They are rather factual figures related to agriculture and agribusiness in Africa.

40%: 40 is the percentage of the average African farm’s performance compared to its overall potential. In explicit terms, if the average African farm had the potential of churning out $2, 000 worth of farm produce, it would only churn out about $800 worth of produce.

13%: 13 is the percentage of Africa’s food needs the continent is expected to meet through internal means, by 2050. What this estimation means is that if the continent needs food worth $5 million, only about $650,000 of this $5 million would be supplied by Africans, meaning food worth a whopping $4.35 million would be imported.

50%: 50 is the percentage of the world’s arable and uncultivated land believed to be in Africa alone. Half of the world’s uncultivated and arable land is in Africa; this further cements the belief that the potentials of agriculture in Africa are indeed great: with the level at which Africans are involved in agriculture, with the number of farmlands — superbly large, modest and small — that I have seen in my lifetime, it is amazing to know that about half of the world’s untouched farmable land is in Africa!

$1 trillion by 2030: $1 trillion is what agriculture and agribusiness are projected to be worth by 2030. This estimation is from The World Bank.

24%: 24 is the percentage of the GDP supplied by agriculture alone, across Africa. If post-harvest activities are considered, then agriculture and agriculture-related businesses will account for nearly 50% of the continent’s economic activities.

Image Credit: Alamy

$25 billion: $25 billion is what Africa spends on food importation annually. What a lamentable way to end the presentation of figures, you might be wont to say. Fellow African, I am sorry. However, you would be right to mention the word lamentable; for lamentable or a sadder word aptly describes the gross amount spent on food importation, especially by a continent with so much agricultural potential as Africa. What happens to the produce from the farms that can be found in nearly every kilometre of our dear continent? Why are we not yet capable of feeding every African mouth and meeting every African’s food needs? Why must we look out to continents that have barely half of our agricultural potential? What are the problems militating against the self-sustenance of the African continent, food-wise?

It is said that 80% of Africa’s farms are small farmlands, yet, these farmlands contribute 80% of food production in Africa. If the average small-scale African farm is mainly subsistent and 80% of farms in Africa are small-scale, then, we can conclude that 80% of food production in Africa goes to meet the immediate food needs of the individual farmers and their families. Other problems militating against Africa and its rich agricultural potential include poor road networks, weak trade policies, lack of access to technology in agriculture, and financial problems. What path should we take to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential?

A vast network that allows for easy trade-related exchange of agricultural produce among African states is one of the most cogent solutions to unlocking the agricultural potentials of Africa. Many farmers within the 80% earlier mentioned are involved in small-scale farming not because they do not wish to farm on a large scale, but because they have yet to meet with secure options. These farmers have fears that their produce would go to waste if they embarked on large-scale farming. If these agriculturalists had the assurance of a secure way of getting their produce to markets in and outside their home country, they would be less hesitant to venture into large-scale farming — which would, in turn, result in an increase in production and commercialisation of farm produce. What can give life to this dream? The answer lies in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), said to favour small-scale businesses (our African farmers come to mind). Why then is its implementation meeting with problems?

I am African, and I love my people. Beyond this, I am a firm believer in leading by example; there’s a change you want to see that is not materialising? Let that change start from you, and watch others join in. Going by this mantra, I present my step-by-step plan for unlocking Africa’s agricultural potentials, starting with my home country, Nigeria. If one good turn still deserves another in this time and age, then, I can only hope that other African leaders would join this wagon of change. As soon as implementable, Nigeria will:

- Reduce the importation tariffs placed on all agricultural products from fellow African countries — especially the signatories to the Free Trade Agreement. This would spark the interest of fellow African countries, as a reduction in importation tariffs would ultimately lead to friendlier trade agreements between my country and other African countries. However, I must state that importation will not be that of any products; our importation will be in-line with the ever-changing agricultural demands of Nigerian families and industries. I hope that by extending an arm of friendship to our fellow African states, they would also respond in like gesture by making exportation of agricultural products from Nigeria to their various states, relatively easier.

- Strengthen and diversify its transportation networks. One sure way of getting farmers to farm on a large scale and send out more farm produce is to supply means by which their farm produce would reach the right markets. A large percentage of Nigeria’s agricultural produce comes from rural areas. Sadly, these rural areas have poor transportation systems, which leads to the loss of a lot of agricultural produce. We will embark on a diversified strengthening of transportation networks in Nigeria: the primary means we are considering are railway and road transportation. There would be the repair of all federal highways connecting major cities, construction of highways connecting cities to rural areas, and the construction of a vast network of railway lines linking distant cities. We will fast-track the Lagos-Kano Railway, and ensure that it is largely plied by freight trains. This will foster the transportation of agricultural produce from the agricultural North, to our country’s largest commercial city, which in turn would ease exportation via water channels and roads. These transportation networks would also ensure that a large part of Nigeria’s food needs is met internally.

I cannot force you all to do against your wishes. However, that which I can do, I have done, and will continue to do: I have brought to your notice, the potentials of our dear continent. I have also reminded you of the problems hindering us from being largely self-sufficient and reaching these potentials. Lastly, I have told you of the things I am willing to do from my end, in a bid to ensure Africa, our continent, reaches its agricultural potentials; I can only hope you will also pick up the challenge.

God bless Africa!

This piece was submitted for the 2019 Uongozi Institute Leadership Essay Competition, with the instructions: If you were an African leader, how would you promote African intra-trade to unlock agricultural potential in the continent?

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Penner of thoughts. Communications and Marketing Aficionado. Critic. INTJ. Inbound Marketer. On-page SEO.

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Theophilus Femi Alawonde

Theophilus Femi Alawonde

Penner of thoughts. Communications and Marketing Aficionado. Critic. INTJ. Inbound Marketer. On-page SEO.

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