Africa must get people out of subsistence agriculture to double food production—US expert

Africa must get people out of subsistence agriculture to double food production—US expert

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J. Scott Angle, United States director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has said that Africa must consciously get its farmers out of subsistence agriculture to double food production.

Addressing a group of international journalists in Washington DC, the U.S capital, as a prelude to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in the Hague, the Netherlands, Angle argued that a large number of farmers in Africa were involved in subsistence agriculture, thereby making commercial food production in the region difficult.

 “It is a matter of moving from small-scale subsistence agriculture to more commercial agriculture,” he said.

Subsistence agriculture occurs when farmers grow food to feed themselves and their families. But commercial agriculture involves growing food for sale locally and globally.

Subsistence farming has perpetuated poverty in Africa, with many farmers still using crude implements and tools to grow food.

The sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) particularly is expected to feed the world in the next 50 to 100 years but progress in food production has been low. A Food and Agricultural Organisation’s 2016 paper estimated that 75 percent of farmers in the sub-Saharan Africa were involved in farming directly or indirectly. But the United States Council on Foreign Relations projects that 65 percent of farmers in the region are involved in subsistence agriculture.

A 2016 Brookings report said that farming was the primary source of food and income for Africans, providing up to 60 percent of all jobs on the continent.

The report, however, said food production in SSA needed to increase by 60 percent over the next 12 years to feed a growing population.

Angle, on his part, argued that it was important to get the smallest farmer in any part of Africa to have access to quality information.

Africa’s 1.2 billion population is projected to reach 2.5 billion between 2015 and 2050.

Between 2017 and 2050, nine countries will account for half of the world’s projected population, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda.

For Angle, the continent’s farmers needed science and investment to raise food production in the face of surging population.

“The only two ways of doubling food production are through investment and science,” he said.

In 2019, only approximately N138 billion ($383 million) was allocated to agriculture in Nigeria’s budget, representing just 1.5 percent of the total budget and lower than N173 billion (480.5 million) the previous year. The 2019 figure represents N690 ($1.9) per Nigerian each year.

But South Africa has done better. It is perhaps one of the very few African nations that have invested significantly in agriculture and science.

It allocated $2.097 billion ($30.7 billion) to agriculture and rural development, and another $1.26 billion (R18.4 billion) to land reforms. South Africa’s budget represents $59 per citizen.

Angle, who worked for 24 years as a Professor of Soil Science at the University of Maryland, said Africa uses only 15 percent of fertilizers, which is why big firms are moving to the continent.

But he advised farmers to use fertilizers in the right quantity.

“This is the continent with very good arable land. But particularly in the developing countries, a lot of countries understand the importance of fertilizers but they overuse it,” he observed.

Nigeria has 200 million mouths to feed. But it is one of the least mechanised farming countries in the world with the country’s tractor density put at 0.27 hp/ hectare, which is far below the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommended tractor density of 1.5 hp/ hectare.

Nigeria is 132nd out of the 188 countries worldwide measured by FAO / United Nations in terms of the number of tractors in the country. This is one reason why farming has been mainly subsistence, rather than commercial.

 Angle believes that this is the same pattern for many other African countries which makes doubling food production difficult amid rising population.

 

ODINAKA ANUDU, Washington DC




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