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The Road to Food Security in Africa

16 April 2015, 13:32


Fanie Brink- Independent Agricultural Economist

The international community and the big donors who have invested huge amounts of money in Africa over many decades to alleviate hunger and to eradicate poverty were not successful in finding solutions to these problems.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations the world’s population will increase by one-third between now and 2050. If current income and consumption growth trends continue, the FAO estimates that agricultural production will have to increase with 60 percent by 2050 to satisfy the expected demand for food. Agriculture must therefore transform itself if it is to feed a growing global population and provide the basis for economic growth and poverty reduction.

During the period from 2010-2012 there were almost 870 million people estimated to be undernourished. In addition, another billion people are malnourished, lacking essential micronutrients. About 60 percent of the malnourished people are actually small subsistence farmers, which is shocking, because they are the very same people on whom most of the countries in Africa and the international community rely to feed the millions of under and malnourished people.

The first big obstacle that still lies ahead on the road to food security in these mostly underdeveloped African countries is the unwillingness or inability of these countries and the international community to make a paradigm shift by finally realising that the production of food by small subsistence farmers will never be the solution to famine and poverty in Africa. These farmers in many cases are struggling to make a living themselves.

It is a fact that no farmer in the world, regardless of his/her colour, race or the size of his/her farm, can make a contribution to food security if he/she cannot produce food profitable and sustainable. The time has now arrived for everybody involved in the process to achieve food security in Africa to acknowledge and accept this reality. Once this obstacle can be overcome and the mind shift can be made towards the total transformation of the agricultural industry, the sooner the road to food security can become a very strong scientific and economic reality in Africa.

However, a very important question that should be ask in this regard is how is it possible that the international community and the big donors still continued year after year and decade after decade with the same development policy in the African countries which proved to be unsuccessful but then expected different results?

The ultimate question is therefore, what should be done to achieve food security and to eradicate poverty in these countries? The answer is very simple, namely the profitable and sustainable commercial production of food. This is the determining prerequisites for any country who wants to achieve food security - there is no other way! 

The second obstacle as far as food security and poverty is concerned, is the fact that the subsistence agricultural industry in Africa in any event never had the capacity to support and ever growing population in a sustainable manner. The fact that the agricultural industry in almost all these countries still makes the biggest contribution to economic growth and that it is still the most important part of the economy is a further obstacle in itself and remains the most important reason for the underdeveloped status of these countries.

The only solution to this obstacle is the deliberate transfer of a major proportion of the population out of the agricultural industry over time to relieve the industry from this enormous burden, even if it takes longer than a generation or two to achieve this objective.

The realisation of this transfer can be found in the development of secondary and tertiary service providing industries that will be essential during the transformation of the struggling subsistence agriculture to a highly scientific and commercialised industry. The investment in industrial development, specifically in agricultural-related industries, will initially have to play a major and decisive role in this transformation process to create business and employment opportunities outside the agricultural industry.

Food production must be intensified and vertically expanded after which further horizontal expansion can be continued. Production must be commercialised, operated and managed on a profitable basis to be sustainable and to achieve food security and poverty eradication. Food production should be adapted to climate change and it must also be directed towards the conservation of the environment and natural resources.

The international community and big donors should invest in this transformation process by appointing qualified agencies with the required expertise, skills and experience to produce food in these countries. It must be produced in partnership with and to the benefit of the small subsistence farmers and the population as a whole. Large projects that are highly labour intensive such as the production of vegetables, fruit, flowers and other similar products under irrigation should also be developed to accommodate a large number of subsistence farmers in a productive way.

The transformation of the agricultural industry should be an economic and financial self-sufficient process which will only require an initial large capital investment with no further financial support. Industrial development through the investment in agricultural-related enterprises such as seed production, manufacturing of fertilizers, machinery and implements as well as renewable energy, will be essential where ever it might be possible in Africa. Investment in infrastructure to accommodate the import of production inputs and capital goods which cannot be produced or manufactured locally, as well as for the export of products, must receive a high priority. Investment in manufacturing and value-adding capacity must also have a very high priority to develop new markets for agricultural products.

Child labour should not be allowed and all children should attend school and receive further education and training in order to qualify themselves for employment and business opportunities outside the agricultural industry. An acceptable birth control system will have to be developed and implemented to limit the rapid growth in the population. 

As far a South Africa is concerned, the generally accepted goals of the government of land redistribution and the development of small black farmers on the one hand and food security on the other hand can never be compatible goals. Mainly because there is no possibility that these small farmers, the same as in Africa, can make a meaningful contribution to food security if they cannot produce food profitably and sustainably.

This is a proven fact, because of the small scale of their farming operations, the severe climate conditions, the fact that most of them might not have the interest, experience, entrepreneurship, capital or management skills, which means that they will find it very hard to survive financially. If they further don’t receive the necessary training and extension services from qualified and experienced agricultural scientists to develop as fully fledge commercial food producers, then it is clear and fair to say that South Africa has taken without any doubt the wrong road to the longer term sustainable food security for the country.‘

The land redistribution policy and small farmer development in South Africa, as a purely political objective, may already have placed the agriculture on a path to an unprofitable, unsustainable and a non-commercial industry. The question that is also very relevant is to what extent these developments, together with the government’s prospects of agriculture apparently being the only industry that has to create more jobs, have already placed South Africa on a reverse path towards an underdeveloped country?


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