Sustainable Development for Rural Africa
Africa has for many years topped the agenda in terms of human security in the global platform especially with respect to sustainable development and the eradication of hunger. The international community has so far been supportive through the relief food programs but it is time that the basket case is empowered to provide for themselves and possibly for the rest of the world owing to the large potential of African agriculture that simply needs a push in the right direction to thrive. Africa is developing fast with respect to urbanization but a large portion of this continent remains in the rural division. As the urban areas take on the pressure of westernization and seek to become continent capitals in the caliber of New York and Geneva among other glorious cities, the rural areas can be capitalized upon effectively to become the world’s food basket. It is thus up to the foreign and local development partners to come up with innovative ways to handle the current challenges facing Africa’s agricultural sector. The policymakers can also play a great role by formulating policies that can address these challenges from the bottom upwards as opposed to waiting upon the African governments to wake up and smell the coffee. The thing about agricultural development in Africa is that it creates a great economic potential for the foreign countries by improving the local economies and thus increasing the purchasing power of the people. This paper examines the challenges African cultivators have faced, efforts to remedy the challenges, the effects of policies and changing development paradigms and the unintended consequences of development interventions.
Challenges faced by African Cultivators
According to Deininger and Byerlee (2010), Africa’s agricultural industry is a relatively complicated given the number of challenges faced across the board and the amount of produce they are able to register every year despite this myriad of challenges. This simply implies that with the right solutions, the African cultivators have the potential to feed the entire planet comfortably while also storing for the bad seasons thus completely eliminating famine and hunger from the planet. Some of the challenges and their subsequent possible remedies are as follows:
IFAD (2010) notes that the rural areas in Africa are highly underdeveloped with respect to roads and storage facilities for farm produce. As such, the farmers have to transport their harvests over long distances for very high costs owing to the bad roads. Also, the fact that they lack storage facilities implies that they have to sell their products as soon as they are harvested or seek losing them to pest and disease infestations from bad storage. This combination limits the profits that can be obtained from farming thus discouraging a lot of farmers in the rural areas from going beyond subsistence farming despite their capacity to do so. The hard work that is put into the cultivation is not always translated in the incomes realized. In order to remedy this issue, development partners can come up with infrastructural development plans like the one between Kenya and China in which roads are being built to help ease the burden of transporting farm products over long distances on bad roads. With better roads, the cost is likely to go down thus reducing the farmer’s expenses and consequently increasing their profit margins.
There is not much that can be done with respect to climate change in agriculture apart from encouraging irrigation and the use of greenhouses (IFAD, 2010). It should be noted that most farmers on this continent practice traditional farming where they plant according to the bimodal seasons thus making them vulnerable in the face of unpredictable changes in the seasons and weather patterns. In order to mitigate farmers from the losses of unpredicted changes in the planting seasons, there is a dire need to introduce irrigation and greenhouses as a way for the farmers to cater to the needs of their farms without fully relying on nature.
Inadequate Extension Services
Like every other profession in the world today, farmers need continuing education in order to cope with the new technology that will boost their outputs on the farm. The African governments today may be working towards providing information and education to their farmers but the limitation imposed by their feeble budgets is evident seeing, as they are not able to hire enough educators to reach out to all the farmers in the rural areas (Mhlanga, 2010). Also, the required technology is in some places too expensive and thus far beyond the reach of the common traditional farmer. In order to remedy this, there is a need to hire more educators and subsidize the required equipments or to improve the farmers’ access to loans and grants so that they can afford to boost the technology on their farms.
Deterioration of Soil Nutrients
Due to the dependence on farming as a source of sustenance in the rural areas, the land has been exhausted for years on end and thus the soil nutrients have deteriorated drastically (Raswant & Khanna, 2010). This has led to a drastic reduction in the quality and quantity of farm yields for most parts of the continent thus discouraging the farmers from engaging in full time farming. In order to remedy this challenge, it is important to educate the farmers on proper farming techniques such as crop rotation and fallowing among other things that can enable the soil to build back its nutrients and thus restore its capacity to produce better and much higher yields. Also, the accessibility to good fertilizers should be ensured through partnerships with the local governments so that the farmers are able to restore some of the lost nutrients and thus support their crops for better yields. Adequate research into the soil type and the kind of crops that can be supported will also be very effective in ensuring that the farmers only plant crops that are best suited for their soil types to avoid losses and maximize production.
Pests and Diseases
Over the past few years, a lot of interest has been directed towards finding solutions in as far as pests and diseases are concerned within the agricultural sector. This kind of research is however mostly conducted in the developed countries thus leaving the African farmers to copy paste the solutions regardless of the varying circumstances for which they were formulated. It would be a great step to fund local research in order to find solutions that are relevant to the specific pests and diseases that affect a particular agricultural region. Also, the cost of pesticides and other farm inputs is considerably high thus making these vital materials inaccessible to the traditional farmer.
Most traditional farmers are stuck with outdated technology owing to their inability to afford the latest agricultural technology or simply their lack of knowledge on the existence and operation of these modern gadgets and procedures (Raswant & Khanna, 2010). This means that in order to improve the production capacity and potential, it would be beneficial to consider availing this technology and its relevant training to the rural farmers so that they can turn their small farms into major production systems for the global agricultural industry. Having the right equipment and knowing how to use them is the first step towards efficient farming in the rural areas of Africa.
Access to Markets
The bad roads and lack of adequate storage facilities implies that farmers either have to find middlemen who can buy their products as soon as they are harvested, as they probably have the means to transport them over long distances to the markets or the means to access modern storage facilities that would keep the produce safe from pests and diseases until they are bought. These middlemen are however often very unscrupulous and they prey on the desperation of these farmers to offer very low prices, thus cutting down on the profitability of farming in the rural areas of Africa. In order to remedy this challenge, there is a need to build markets close to the rural areas so that large scale buyers and importers can deal with the farmers directly for more lucrative business transactions unlike the middlemen who simply take advantage of a desperate situation. Making markets directly accessible to the farmers and the large scale buyers also cuts the cost of transportation for the farmer thus giving them more returns for their efforts.
Low Investment by the Governments
In Africa, the most problematic sector is education and most governments are investing more in educational opportunities thus forgetting health and agriculture among other areas. The low investment limits the potential of the farmer by making farm inputs too expensive and also neglecting the need to empower these farmers through loans and grants. It thus follows that among other things, any development partner looking to improve the state of Africa’s agriculture should be able to fill in the investment gap and empowering the farmers rather than waiting upon the governments to finish dealing with their present priorities before they can see the importance of agriculture to their respective economies. This kind of investment is likely to help the little efforts that some governments have made thus improving the economy.
Limited Private Sector Involvement
The private sector has in the present day grown significantly within the African continent and its contribution to national and continental development is rather evident. However, the agricultural sector remains with a scarcity in as far as the private sector is concerned as very few companies are looking to invest in agriculture (Raswant & Khanna, 2010). It should be noted that the private sector is mostly about making profits by minimizing risks. The international development partners can thus come in to help in mitigating the risks in Africa’s agricultural sector through grants and feasibility studies aimed at assuring these companies that agriculture is as lucrative an industry as any other and that they should invest not only for the sake of making profits but also to improve their national economies in the process.
Effects of Policies and the Changing Development Paradigms
Policies drive the activities of various organizations, governing their direction and the decisions that they make. In Africa, the policies made overseas with respect to aid and development partnerships affect the accessibility to funds for farmers to improve their practice by buying relevant and good quality inputs, acquiring the right kind of information on what to do in order to get the best yields on a piece of land, and even on where to market their produce for best prices and prompt responses. It is important to notice that the African farmer today needs as much support as they can get considering that they are the next best solution for the accessibility of food to an ever increasing growing population. These farmers have the potential and will to produce food for the entire planet but they need the support of the developed countries which can come in as development partners and private sector market players in the industry. Good policies will encourage these partnerships thus also motivating the local governments and private sectors to invest in agriculture. The end result would be better produce, higher incomes among the farmers and thus a better overall global economy as well as food security. It is also important to establish that effective partnerships will improve the sustainability of an agricultural economy for the African continent as a whole.
Unintended Consequences on Development Interventions
One possible development intervention for Africa’s agricultural sector was with respect to creating a market for the cash crops like coffee, tea and cotton. The market created acts as a motivation for the farmers who often end up trading off food farming for cash crop farming thus threatening food security (Deininger & Byerlee, 2010). Cash crop farming is an economic booster as it enables the farmers to make a comfortable living out of their farming efforts. However, food farming is a backbone in most nations as without the food grown by farmers, countries that are otherwise able to grow their own food would have to either import food items or become beggars in the international community in as far as food matters are concerned. While specialization is considered as a positive aspect of the free trade, it should be noted that cash crops are priced higher than the food crops thus luring most farmers across borders to abandon food farming or to practice it on a small scale while concentrating more on the cash crop farming. In the end, countries with a great potential for self sustenance on food security become dependents of another country thus increasing the famine and hunger in the continent. It is however not right to stop marketing and buying the cash crops, thus the right course of action would be to balance the market and the prices with that of the food crops.
Another unintended consequence in the development interventions for African agriculture would be the deterioration of literacy levels. Currently, most African children are sent to school in the hope that they would get jobs in the future (Deininger & Byerlee, 2010). With a thriving agricultural industry, the need for literacy could be eliminated as more and more people get into farming and thus require only the basic literacy skills like reading and writing in order to work in the agricultural industry as farmers and laborers. Depending on the environment to which these children are exposed, they may be unable to dream beyond the farmlands thus limiting their futures to the rural areas where their parents work as laborers or own pieces of land. This should however not be so seeing as a thriving agricultural industry is flooded with competition and education will be an added advantage for the proprietors of agricultural organizations.
The African agricultural industry is the world’s saving grace in terms of food security in the future. This implies a clear need to improve this industry through development partnerships with both the public and private sectors in Africa. To do this, there is a dire need for great policies that will enable sustainable partnerships as opposed to food aid. It is no longer about giving grants and sitting back but rather partnering to undertake the necessary remedies that will allow the African farmers to handle their present challenges effectively for a sustainable future. International development partners thus need to consider funding research, sourcing and supplying subsidized farm inputs like fertilizers and machinery, extending education and information to the most remote areas of Africa where governments have been unable to reach due to limited resources, and encouraging the private sector to invest and help the farmers in marketing and selling the produce overseas for fair prices and thus better profits. All these activities are likely to improve the African agricultural industry and consequently the global economy as well as food security both now and in the future.