CHRISTINE CHISHA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
DESPITE many African countries claiming that agriculture is the backbone of their countries, a gathering of more than 20 journalists from different nations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia came out with a hazy picture.
The picture revealed a crisis of agriculture on the continent from government policies, journalists’ response and climate change.
Most agricultural production takes place in the rural parts of the country due to uneven development.
Urban areas in a number of African countries are developing at a faster rate than rural areas, creating rampant rural-urban migration.
It is estimated that by the year 2040, the urban population in Africa will be three times more, as a result of this phenomenon.
The declining population of youths who are the most productive of the labour force in the rural areas threatens agricultural growth.
For farming to be a business, the commodity market and prices ought to be guaranteed.
One of the most common complaint in Zambia is the smallholder farmers’ poor access to the market.
To end this, Zambia is pursuing a programme of reinvigorating rural development and ‘taking the cities’ to the rural areas through establishing new districts there.
India’s Down To Earth magazine, managing editor, Richard Mahapatra, notes that close to 70 percent of Africa countries are net food importers today, with cereals at the top of agricultural imports. Africa’s agriculture is predominantly rain-fed and driven by the small scale farmers.
This makes the region highly vulnerable to climate change and coupled with the changing rainfall patterns and degrading land, productivity of the continent’s farmlands is bound to face a setback.
Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Director Souparno Banerjee, said Africa is a vast area, with immense diversity in peoples, customs, problems as well as solutions.
“We wish to learn and understand agriculture in Africa and help focus attention on the key issues. The fundamental idea behind nurturing this association between Africa and India is our belief that as nations and peoples of the Global South, our environmental concerns are similar.
“We can, therefore, share learnings and experiences and work together towards solutions. And the media, with its capacity to influence opinions and drive change, can be a very important cog in this wheel,” Mr Souparno said.
The sentiments by Mr Souparno posed a challenge to African journalists to report about agriculture because it is a sector proving to be a means for the continent to escape poverty.
AgroNigeria chief executive officer Richard Mbaram said it should be the role of every journalist to report on agriculture so that the public can be informed on how they can escape poverty through agriculture.
“Agriculture on the African continent is the best healthy secret and the job of the journalist is to bring out stories that paint agriculture as a business and best suited to improve the nutrition of African citizens,” he said.
The last ten years Africa has made a strong case for agriculture as the surest path to producing sustainable economic growth that is felt in all sectors of society.
Many governments face significant budget constraints and far too many farming families continue to lack basic inputs, like improved seed or fertilizers.
This prompted Mr Mbaram, to put the blame on African governments for not paying attention to the agriculture sector.
Mr Mbaram said it is sad that Africa is a continent that spends billions of money on importing food it can produce.
Mr Mbaram said it is time journalists and policy makers changed its attitude towards agriculture especially that there is empirical evidence that investment in agriculture has 12 times the impact on poverty alleviation compared to investment in any other sector.
Environmental Communication expert and former BBC presenter Uduake Amimo said journalists, as leaders, should develop an interest and specialisation in reporting on agriculture.
“We as journalists are conveyers of information and it is high time we started writing stories that are interesting and attract readers.
“The agriculture sector is the panacea to the pervasive poverty that has been inherent in the rural areas of the African continent,” she said.
Ms Amimo said the crisis that the continent is facing is that there is no accountability by both journalists and policy makers even when the continent has been warned about droughts and floods.
She said there is also need for media organisations to train journalists to specialise in agriculture and set up desks in newsrooms.
Ms Amimo also challenged journalists to write in-depth articles that connect agriculture, nutrition and public health.
She urged African journalists to also write stories that promote private participation in agricultural markets for inputs.
Africa is the only continent in the world that imports more food than it produces, despite having the potential to feed the whole world; and the cost of the food it imports is so high that it cannot invest in other welfare activities.
However Africa is no longer in the dark. It has done a lot towards agricultural transformation in the past decade. But there is a need to double the effort by 2030 for a meaningful agricultural transformation.