Investment required to access Africa’s untapped agricultural potential

by Developed Africa 12. September 2014 09:00

Farmers are being held back by their own inability to invest in products that can improve harvests, such as fertilisers and pesticides. With farming in Kenya accounting for around a quarter of national output (in 2006, 75% of working Kenyans were making their living by farming) and with similar figures being seen across the continent, it’s clear that the benefits by increased public investment would be felt by a large number of people.

Most farms are small, and it is common for those who are unable to support their families through the production of cocoa, cotton, coffee and tea to be driven to growing food staples. These problems were highlighted in by Martin Bwalya, head of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

Africa has to move away from agriculture for food in the stomach to agriculture for wealth into the economy and into the pockets of farmers,"

It is thought that the solution lies in the production of higher-yielding varieties, improved marketing and through the cultivation of local demand that would add value to the products.

The unlocked potential that would come as a result of investment into crop processing was made clear in a statement from Edward George, head of research for soft commodities at Ecobank, London:

It is possible there is a cotton farmer in Burkina Faso who is wearing a shirt made with the cotton that he grew, but the shirt was made in China".

The potential for expanding local industry is vast. Alongside crop processing, increasing local demand for agricultural products would have a dramatic impact on their value. Most of the recent work in value addition is still in the research stage, but the main strategies recommended are that of improved marketing and new, innovative technologies that allow supply of agricultural products to continue throughout the year, rather than being strongly dictated by harvest times.

There have been many promises to increase agricultural funding; in 2003 a CAADP campaign led to African presidents pledging to increase agricultural funding from around 3% of their budgets to around 10%. Only eight of the African Union’s nations have reached this goal. Others are improving, but in many cases the funding just isn’t sufficient to make a real difference.

For example, in Kenya’s Kirinyaga County, 90% of the 560,000 county residents rely on farming for their livelihood, however only a fraction of the county’s spending resources are spend on agriculture. About a third of the 3.25 billion shilling total ($36.79 million) goes towards development, with most of the money being invested in roads, schools and healthcare centres.

Without the ability to invest in improved farming practices, the most a farmer in this county can expect to earn is 70 shillings per kg of coffee, however, with improved marketing and scientific farming methods, this could more than double, to around 200 shillings. While reflecting on this possibility, Kirinyaga Governor, Joseph Ndathi conluded:

That is the surest and fastest form of development."

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