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SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA AND THE PARADOX OF STARVATION IN PARADISE

Friday, 16th December 2016
Africa will not attain food security, better nutrition and sustainable agriculture, if the Continent continues to rely on primitive technologies in her agricultural sector. This was the unanimous view adopted by 105 participants at an early December workshop convened to identify an Africa-wide Strategy for the mechanization of agriculture on the Continent. 

Organised by the Plant Production and Protection Division of FAO and hosted by the Government of Kenya in Nairobi, the workshop featured 25 keynote addresses and technical presentations. It also included a site visit to two farms in which participants saw the use of agricultural machinery in large-scale and small-holder farming on the one hand; and conservation farming practices on the other.

Participants from Sub-Saharan Africa regions of West, East and South came bearing different qualifications and experiences. They included professors of engineering, of agro-technology, and those of rural development. Also represented from the Continent were leaders of technology innovation groups, local manufacturers of agro-technologies, especially from West Africa, those of farming groups and associations as well as some representatives of the private sector closely connected with African agriculture. In all, over 10 donors co-financed the meeting including the World Bank, African Development Bank, AGRA, the CGIAR and the African Union. ACT, the African Conservation Tillage Network provided the Secretariat for the three-days of brainstorming which was the hallmark of this event. 

As a strategic workshop, the sharing of experience from Asia especially, and also some experiences from Africa herself, was a key element. Prof Singh of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and a renowned researcher in agricultural development, agricultural machinery and mechanization, shared the model of mechanization which helped increase food production while reducing the drudgery in farming and adding value to agricultural products in his native India. His submission was supplemented by another Indian agricultural engineer, Dr Harminder Singh Sidhu, a senior research engineer at the Borland Institute of South Asia. Within the Continent, the workshop benefited from the experiences of African agricultural technology manufacture and adoption such as that of Africa Rice, and of GeographeRuraliste-Specialist, a rural-based cooperative which has managed to incorporate mechanization of certain value chains in agriculture.

From developed country experiences, the workshop gained useful insights from the discussions on how public-private partnerships had helped transform agricultural technologies across the sector's value chains;  in countries with highly developed agricultural sectors, represented in the workshop by presentations from Germany, Italy and Spain. The key to transformation of agriculture, according to most of the experiences presented at the workshop, is the marriage between farming practices, mechanization and finance.

Participants situated the need for mechanized agriculture on the Continent to the triple challenge of increasing productivity, enhancing resilience in the face of adverse climate change and reducing emissions from some agricultural practices. Furthermore,  participants saw agriculture severely compromised by African youth leaving the sector for urban areas. This added to the already existing challenge of skills and capacity gaps in this mainstay sector of African economies. Where some mechanization had taken place, the challenge of non-availability of spare parts for imported machinery was a big frustration to mechanization of agriculture.

The workshop appreciated that part of the answer to some of these challenges lies in seeing mechanization as part and parcel of transformation of agriculture, from a subsistence activity to agri-business where profits could be made. Viewed from this angle, agricultural mechanization then becomes a vehicle to higher objectives of economic growth and prosperity; giving it a much-needed attraction for Africa's youth. 

Throughout the workshop, Ms Grace Akello, the Ambassador of Uganda in Rome, speaking in her capacity at Chairperson of Africa Regional Group, urged Sub-Saharan Africa to take the matter of food and nutrition security as a fundamental matter for the survival of African peoples. Within the context of SDGs and African Union Agenda 2063, Africa, though endowed with vast land and other agricultural resources, was the only continent where some people actually went to bed hungry, where half of the children were stunted while another third suffered from one sort or the other of malnutrition. She pointed out, in addition, that some African countries actually import food from other continents, while two-thirds of agricultural land on the continent remains unexploited. In order to achieve food security in line with SDG2, she called on Africa and all her well-wishers to pursue mechanization of agriculture. Apart from ensuring food security, its added advantage is the opening of doors to some technologies and knowledge essential for generating the momentum for the socioeconomic transformation of the Continent.

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