Food Importation: Re-Engineering Effort Towards Food Production in Africa

Agriculture and food production are largely rural phenomena. Statistics by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) shows that about 68% of African population are rural dwellers, majority of which are farmers. As agriculture is the largest employer in Nigeria and many African countries, its development directly impacts on poverty alleviation, income creation, improvement in quality of life and increase in standard of living of citizens.

Experts estimate that agriculture currently contributes about 32% of Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This figure has a high chance of sky-rocketing if agriculture is made a priority. In Africa, and even many parts of the world, food accounts for over half of household expenditures and increased food prices reduce access to food and the ability to purchase associate necessities. A case in point was the recent tomato scarcity in Nigeria.

World Bank also estimated that food production and processing in Africa will generate $1 trillion a year by 2030. This means that Africa’s farmers can potentially grow enough food to feed the continent. Unfortunately, many factors are hindering this enormous potential; such as limited knowledge of improved practices, low incentives, conflicts, absence of viable institutions and ineffective policies. Poor agricultural growth in the region is primarily a result of area expansion, as less than 4 percent of the total arable land in Africa is irrigated compared to 33 percent in Asia and the Pacific and 29 percent in Middle East. There are also no dominant farming systems that extend over very large areas such as irrigated rice and wheat in Asia. Climate change is also a militating factor; there are more volatility in the environment to deal with, more crop and livestock pests and diseases than elsewhere.
Many African farmers also battle poor accessibility to high-yield seeds, attack on farm lands, inability to access fertilizers and pesticides needed to expand their crop production, and inadequate or poor storage facilities. As a result of these limitations, the continent resolved to foreign imports to meet its growing need in stable food. According to the Former Minister of Agriculture, Nigeria and President, African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Africa spends an alarming $33 billion on food importation annually—a sum that could be better diverted to domestic production for regional and global trade, ultimately contributing to poverty reduction and realigning Africa’s position in the global economy.

Africa’s reputation as a net importer of agricultural products in over three decades has been particularly striking for basic foodstuff such as sugar (and its end products-cereals), fruits (and its end products-juice), palm oil and groundnut oil, meat and meat production, fish, — an over-dependence which implies that food importation has been increasingly important in ensuring food security in the region. This, again, emphasises how building agriculture is crucial to improving food security and ensuring growth of African economy. The increase in food security has ripple effect on nutrition and health, standard of living, income creation and it also decreases a country’s dependence on imported food; thereby saving the continent funds that can be engineered towards building infrastructures and guaranteeing socio-economic development.

In Africa, not only is there insufficient domestic production of food, there is also the danger of thinking agriculture is only about farming; an occupation that is unappealing to urban dwellers. Farming, however, is only a single part of a more comprehensive food and agriculture system. An agriculture system includes all the steps taken to get the agriculture products to the consumer—research, technology application, production process and delivery, storage, product transportation, marketing and trade. It is, therefore, expedient to sensitize people on what agribusiness entails.

We cannot over-emphasise the urgent need for Africa to resuscitate the production, manufacturing and exporting of food to ensure food availability and access as well as increase rural incomes. The recent hike in global food crisis has awakened many to the necessity of increasing food production and productivity in Africa.

Agricultural industry in Africa also requires better coordination in order to achieve competitive advantage in food production. We must begin to re-engineer effort towards better policy reforms, stronger institutions and reliable tracking processes that can create a much better condition for investments in Agribusiness to thrive.

More importantly, we must develop commercial agriculture for broad-based economic growth, food security and poverty reduction in Africa. This requires a more coordinated and integrated approach to investing in food productivity & improvement at all stages of food production. Meeting the demand for food is, therefore, an essential prerequisite for successful economic, social and political development.