More than 75 per cent of the population in African countries rely on agriculture for food and survival, making the sector critical to the economy, yet 90 per cent of production is by smallholder farmers cultivating on no more than one hectare.
These farmers are unable to increase productivity due to limited access to the right technologies, leaving them the equally challenging option of increasing acreage.
The challenges include poor access to information, technologies, policy gaps, lack of finance and, increasingly, changing weather patterns.
Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said over 256 million and 399 million people faced severe and moderate food insecurity, respectively.
Anticipating the challenges, in 2003, the African Union launched the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) with the goal of reducing poverty and ensuring food security.
African governments were to allocate 10 per cent of their annual budget to the sector, targeting a six per cent annual growth in the sector.
The Maputo deal was renewed in 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Although it significantly raised the profile of agriculture with more than 40 countries signing up by 2014, CAADP’s targets are still unmet.
Build resilience of farmers
Projections are, without key transformational changes, the chronic food and nutrition insecurity will worsen. Developing agriculture is urgent for food security and economic development.
Policy innovations must be supported by programmes that consider the need to raise farmers’ productivity, protect the environment by encouraging bio-diversity and encouraging modern farming techniques.
This resonates with the strategy for the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which not only seeks to build the systemic resilience of farmers that support their work but also environmental sustainability.
An example is the integration of sustainable land management in smallholder agriculture in western Kenya, in partnership with Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro).
Working with the county governments of Vihiga, Kakamega and Nandi, the project has developed an inventory of forest resources, ecosystem services in terms of level of importance; population concerns; magnitude and scale of benefits; economic values; social and cultural values; and activities that threaten the Kakamega-Nandi ecosystem.
The report will be useful in creating awareness on the forest value and increased investment by the counties.
Such innovative approaches that include all stakeholders and mitigate against harmful environmental impacts should underpin all agricultural development approaches, whether these choose to emphasise agro-ecological considerations or opt for the input subsidy approach to boost productivity and achieve commercial success for farmers.