GROWING demand for agricultural products from Africa, for food, feed, industry and fuel has become the foremost issue confronting the continent's agricultural sector today.
This is premised on continued population and income growth, combined with urbanisation, which is putting pressure on current food supplies at the same time that global productivity increases are leveling off.
Agriculture has gained considerable global and national attention since the turn of the millennium, particularly after the 2007-2008 food price crisis; the result of which the sector is attracting the policy and investment support it requires from governments and development organisations, to ensure food security and economic growth.
Given its relatively abundant uncultivated land resources and unrealised potential productivity gains as a major source of future supply and stability for food and industrial agricultural markets, Africa is deemed as the continent to lead the rest of the world to achieving food sufficiency.
Conscious of the need to feed an increasingly urbanised population, as well as the opportunity to develop agro processing industries, African governments have been focusing on rapidly increasing agricultural production.
The issue was the high point of the African Union Congress in 2004 where Heads of States committed to achieving an average six per cent annual growth rate of agriculture, supported by a minimum of 10 percent allocation of public expenditures to the agricultural sector.
In Africa, smallholder farmers contribute over 80 per cent of food and agricultural production on the continent and much of the world's food supply.
This brings into focus the need for governments, development organisations as well as big businesses to support smallholders to become less subsistence-based and more entrepreneurial by tailoring production to market forces.
Smallholders, also called small-holder farmers, are farmers who own small-based plots of land on which they grow subsistence crops and one or two cash crops relying almost exclusively on family labour.
This means that continued small-holder production growth, to sustain global demand, will require increased investments in intensification. In other words, for smallholders to increase production. With less additional land and without major increases in labour inputs, they will need to increase their own, productivity through- greater capital and technology investments.
ln fact, many smallholders in Africa farm on poor, fragile or degraded soils; and lack access to affordable and appropriate inputs including quality seeds, fertiliser and pest control measures, leaving them with very low yields.
Additionally, the absence of accessible storage and warehousing facilities means farmers often have to travel long distances to markets, while poor infrastructure in many rural areas result in very high transport costs.
Furthermore, they do not have adequate access to research or extension services, and often lack information about prices which, combined with their weak bargaining position, often result in them not achieving optimal prices for their output.
Smallholders are typically poorly served by finance providers, with little access to credit or savings and insurance instruments. Small-scale producers tend to have little say in decisions that affect them and no scope for influencing research or policy agendas.
Another challenge confronting them is that, despite growing demand in domestic and global markets for agricultural produce, these markets are undergoing rapid and dramatic changes that make them increasingly inaccessible to many small-scale producers.
With the world focusing on Africa to ensure that food security becomes a reality empowering the continent’s smallholder farmers with improved farm technologies and practices, adequate training and financial support, among others, is the surest way out of global food insecurity.
In an interview with lnter Press Service News Agency (IPS) or industrialisation of Africa's small- holder in agriculture. John Moffett, a director at Self Help Africa, an NGO that works with rural communities to bring sustainable solutions to the causes of hunger and poverty said: "Increased productivity and value-chain involvement should address weaknesses in Africa's food economy and create employment opportunities by engaging smallholder farmers in agro-processing, packaging and the marketing of their products."
On the same issue, Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation. This works to advance agricultural and rural development in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, said that the private sector ought to play greater role in smallholder agriculture as their increased participation in agricultural value chains was essential to stabilising global food supply, besides developing the livelihood of Africa’s smallholders.
It is encouragingly, many, global food retailers and agribusinesses are showing the interest in prioritising smallholder farmers more than ever. Big companies like Unilever, Nestle and Guinness all share the, view that the livelihood of smallholders is critical the, expansion of giant food retailers.
David Hughes, professor of food markets at Imperial College, London; said at an international meeting on agriculture in Africa that Companies' emphasis on smallholders, was a commercial imperative and not just a Corporate social responsibility afterthought, adding that "if they don't get on the green train then they know they won't have a long-term business. I think we will start seeing businesses making radical changes to their business models over the next 10 years."
Meanwhile, governments and development organisations are also promoting the view that sustainable development in African countries should be generated by a partnership between large companies and small farmers.
In Ghana, for example, the government is undertaking a US$ 145m project called Ghana Commercial Agricultural project (GCAP) funded jointly by the World Bank and the USAID with the view to developing the Commercial agriculture sector in Ghana, using the smallholder as the focal point.
GCAP seeks to increase access to land, private sector finance, and input-output markets by smallholder farms, through private-public partnerships in the Accra Plains and Savannah-Accelerated Development (SADA) zones in Ghana
Many other development organisations are also busy promoting the role of the private sector in smallholder agriculture in Africa. One of them is the United Kingdom's Department for International Development which is funding the creation of smallholder farmer linkages with the U.K.'s food retail industry and supermarkets to create opportunities for Africa's farmers to export more of their products to U.K supermarket shelves.
African governments should continue to join forces with development organisations and other stakeholders to promote the view that sustainable development on the continent should be generated by a partnership between, large companies And small farmer
The advocacy of the need for smallholders to be market savvy and strategies production to satisfy the demands of the market in order to break out of subsistence agriculture should be intensified. These are key ingredients to facilitating smallholders' response to the needs of food security and market forces.
Indeed, Africa can balance the task of feeding a population of two billion by 2050 and at the same time accommodate the interest of the industrial world, if stakeholders work hard to integrate' smallholders into more sophisticated value chains to satisfy the new demand.
Source: The Ghanaian Times