This week, Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) wrote a piece for FT: This is Africa, about the huge potential that African agriculture can have, if the right investments and interventions are made. Part of the “Inclusive Economies” series, the article explores that statistics presented in the latest Farming First infographic, which was compiled in partnership with IFAD.
In the article, Nwanze states that today, two thirds of Africans earn their living from agriculture or fisheries, yet Africa imports $35bn worth of food every year. He questions why this should be, as this is food that can be and should be grown in Africa, by Africans. This is money that should be flowing in to support African businesses, not outwards.
When speaking of the infographic Farming First and IFAD created to demonstrate the potential African agriculture has, Nwanze writes that the data gathered speaks volumes about why Africa lags behind other regions. For example, only around 5 percent of cultivated land in Africa is irrigated, compared with 41 percent in Asia. At the same time, farmers in Africa apply only 10 to 13kg of fertilizer per hectare of cultivated land. This compares to more than 100kg in South Asia – even though roughly 75 percent of African soils lack the nutrients needed to grow healthy crops.
Irrigation alone could boost the continent’s agricultural output by 50 percent, and efficient use of fertilizer has been proven to triple yields. Imagine the future Africa could have if the appropriate investments and policies were in place to realize just these two interventions.
To realize Africa’s potential, he argues, we need to dramatically change the way we look at agriculture. Smallholder farming is a significant economic activity, a business enterprise that feeds people and generates wealth. It is a dignified profession and needs to be treated as such, and not just as an activity of the rural poor.
Nwanze urges us to take collective action to ensure that Africa’s future includes a vibrant and productive rural economy, which begins on the farm. Only then can we hope to see a continent that is prosperous and free of hunger.