The road to food security in Africa lies in farming
The International community and the big donors who have invested huge amounts of money in Africa over many decades to alleviate hunger and eradicate poverty were not successful in finding solutions to these problems.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world’s population will increase by one-third between now and 2050.
If current income and consumption growth trends continue, the FAO estimates that agricultural production will have to increase by 60 percent by 2050 to satisfy the expected demand for food.
Agriculture must therefore transform itself if it is to feed a growing global population and provide the basis for economic growth and poverty reduction.
During the period between 2010 and 2012, almost 870 million people were estimated to be undernourished.
In addition, another one billion people are malnourished, lacking essential micronutrients.
About 60 percent of malnourished people are small subsistence farmers. This is shocking because they are the very people on whom most of the countries in Africa and the international community rely to feed the millions of undernourished and malnourished people.
The first obstacle on the road to food security in these mostly underdeveloped African countries is the unwillingness or inability of the countries and the international community to make a paradigm shift and realise that the production of food by small subsistence farmers will never be the solution to famine and poverty in Africa.
These farmers are in many cases struggling to make a living themselves.
It is a fact that no farmers in the world, regardless of their colour, race or the size of their farms, can make a contribution to food security if they cannot produce food profitably and sustainably.
The time has now arrived for everybody involved in wanting to achieve food security in Africa to acknowledge and accept this reality.
Once this obstacle is overcome and the mindshift made towards transformation of the agricultural industry, the road to food security can become a scientific and economic reality in Africa.
But an important question should be asked in this regard: how is it possible that the international community and big donors continued year after year and decade after decade with the same development policy that proved unsuccessful, but then expected a different result?
The ultimate question is, then, what should be done to achieve food security and eradicate poverty in these countries?
The answer is simple: profitable and sustainable production of food commercially.
This is the prerequisite for any country that wants to achieve food security. There is no other way.
The second obstacle to achieving food security and relieving poverty is the fact that the subsistence agricultural industry in Africa has never had the capacity to support an ever-growing population in a sustainable manner.
The fact that the agricultural industry still makes the biggest contribution to economic growth, and that it is still the most important part of the economy, is a further obstacle and remains the most important reason for the underdeveloped status of these African countries.
The only solution is the deliberate transfer of a major proportion of the population out of the agricultural industry to relieve the industry from its enormous burden, even if this takes longer than a generation or two to achieve.
Secondary and tertiary services will provide industries that are essential during the transformation of the current struggling subsistence agriculture to a highly scientific and commercialised industry.
The investment in industrial development, specifically in agriculturally related industries, will have to play a major role in this transformation process.
It will create business and employment opportunities outside the agricultural industry.
Food production must be intensified and vertically expanded. After this further horizontal expansion can be continued.
Production must be commercialised, operated and managed on a profitable basis to be sustainable and to achieve food security and poverty eradication.
Food production should be adapted to climate change and must also be directed towards the conservation of the environment and natural resources.
The international community and big donors should invest in this transfor- mation process by appointing qualified agencies with the required expertise, skills and experience to produce food in these countries.
It should be produced in partnership with and to the benefit of the small subsistence farmers and the population as a whole.
Large projects that are highly labour intensive – such as the production of vegetables, fruit, flowers and other products under irrigation – should also be developed to accommodate a large number of subsistence farmers in a productive way.
The transformation of the agricultural industry should be economically and financially self-sufficient and require only an initial capital investment, with no further financial support.
Industrial development through the investment in agriculturally related enterprises such as seed production, manufacturing of fertilisers, machinery and implements – as well as renewable energy – will be essential wherever it is possible in Africa.
Investment in infrastructure to accommodate the import of production inputs and capital goods which cannot be produced or manufactured locally, as well as for the export of products, must receive a high priority.
Investment in manufacturing and value-added capacity must also have a high priority in developing new markets for agricultural products.
Child labour should not be allowed and all children should attend school and receive further education and training in order to qualify themselves for employment and business opportunities outside the agricultural industry.
An acceptable birth control system would have to be developed and implemented to limit the rapid growth in the population.
As far a South Africa is concerned, the generally accepted goals of the government – of land redistribution and the development of small black farmers – on the one hand and food security on the other can never be compatible.
This is mainly because there is no possibility that small farmers, as in the rest of Africa, can make a meaningful contribution to food security if they cannot produce food profitably and sustainably.
This is a proven fact. Because of the small scale of their farming operations, the severe climate conditions, the fact that most of them might not have the interest, experience, entrepreneurship, or capital or management skills means they could find it very hard to survive financially.
And if they further don’t receive the necessary training and extension services from qualified and experienced agricultural scientists to develop as fully fledged commercial food producers, then it is fair to say that South Africa has taken the wrong road to the longer-term sustainable food security for the country.’
The land redistribution policy and small-farmer development in South Africa, as a purely political objective, may already have placed agriculture on a path to an unprofitable, unsustainable and non-commercial industry.
The question that is also relevant is to what extent these developments – together with the government’s prospects of agriculture apparently being the only industry to create more jobs – have already placed South Africa on a reverse path towards an underdeveloped country?
Fanie Brink is an independent agricultural economist. This article is adapted from a paper he presented yesterday at the Fertiliser Association of Southern Africa Congress in Somerset West.
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