Preparing Africa’s agriculture for the future

Oct 12, 2021, 12:27 PM

At a continental level, the key drivers of this next chapter of African Agriculture will be the rapid population growth on the continent, the urbanization that will see Africa breech the 50% mark in terms of urbanization within a decade, the rapid economic growth that will spawn an ever-increasing number of middle-class consumers who in turn will inspire dietary changes.


However, the elephant in the room will be the fact that Africa has not yet been able to demonstrate a model of how Agriculture moves people out of poverty. Consequently the agriculture sector, which provides livelihoods for the majority of Africans, over and above these drivers must be able to address endemic poverty in the African countryside, as well as urban poverty associated with those that have voted with their feet and trekked to sprawling urban centres. This crisis, that agriculture must respond to, is compounded by an equally huge challenge of climate change which finds most of African agriculture largely ill-prepared. The Climate Change pressure means that in responding to its agricultural system crisis, Africa must modernize its agriculture in a climate responsive manner.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has also pointed to a now irrevocable fact that the world is connected. Global food security will have a big impact on how African agriculture progresses into modernity. The challenge of feeding the 9bn by 2050 will require that Africa’s contribution to global food security increases. African farmers have experienced diminishing returns from traditional crops, which also have not provided food security or a pathway out of poverty.

If one looks at a scorecard of African agriculture in the last decade, it’s clear to see that transitioning to modernity will be a mammoth task!

All of agriculture requires the use of often finite natural resources, such as soil, and water and most inputs into agriculture like fertilizers also rely on non-renewable minerals. The future of modern agriculture in Africa therefore will require a judicious and considered use of natural resources in order for the promise of a modern African agricultural sector. So the future of modern agriculture in Africa is going to be about natural resources, and their efficient and optimal use.

Although many statements and researchers indicate that Africa still has the most under-utilized fertile lands available for agriculture, and under-utilized water resources, it is equally true that land degradation and limited use of water saving techniques suggests that Africa might not be able to deliver on the promise it holds for the rest of the world. =

Agricultural productivity expansion in Africa will need to ensure that while farmers use rainfall for their row crops, irrigation capability, using efficient irrigation systems can be deployed. A water saving, modern African agriculture system will need to employ best in class technology on efficient water use.

Latest technologies from companies like N-Drip make it possible to deploy efficient irrigation without requiring expensive infrastructure like centrifugal pumps and filters. Sub-surface drip installations also make it possible for large scale use of drip in crops like maize and sugarcane where previously inefficient flood irrigation was in use.

Several studies have been undertaken to properly map and classify Africa’s soils for suitability for agricultural production. This has moved the soil health management agenda forward somewhat. However, for a sustainable growth to be achieved in African Agriculture, there needs to be more tools available to allow farmers, including the small holder farmers to be able to monitor and manage soil health.

A Guest Editorial