VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
AGRICULTURE is the main source of income in Africa but its untapped potential has resulted in persistent poverty and deteriorating food security in many countries on the continent.
Instability in commodity prices calls for an urgent need for African countries to diversify their sources of foreign exchange earnings.
Urbanisation is also heightening demand for food products that are not currently being supplied by African producers.
Underperforming value chains, insufficient infrastructure, limited access to agricultural finance, adverse agri-business environment and limited inclusivity, sustainability and nutrition are some of the major challenges to the growth of Africaâ€™s agriculture sector.
In line with the target of ensuring that Africa feeds itself and transforms its economies by targeting agriculture as a source of wealth and employment, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is working on ensuring that the continent is food secure.
The number two goal of the bankâ€™s High Fives, Feed Africa, is aimed at contributing to poverty alleviation through job creation and other livelihoods. It is targeting to lift 130 million people on the continent out of extreme poverty.
Currently, 49 percent or 420 million Africans live under the poverty line of US$1.25 per day (2014). The number of people living in poverty will rise to 550 million by 2025 if nothing is done to address the high levels of impoverishment, according to the bankâ€™s data on poverty in Africa.
The financial institution and its partners will pursue an agenda to transform key agricultural commodities and agro-ecological zones.
AfDB president Akinmwimu Adesina said during the bankâ€™s annual meetings in Lusaka recently that the Feed Africa initiative also aims to eliminate hunger and malnutrition on the continent.
The bank hopes to reduce the 33 percent of African children facing chronic hunger and the 40 million stunted children below the age of five.
â€œWe aim to become a net exporter of agricultural commodities so that we counter the staggering net food import bill of US$35.4 billion per annum,â€ Dr Adesina said.
The value of the net imports is projected to increase to US$111 billion by 2025 if nothing is done to remedy the situation.
AfDB also intends to eliminate large-scale imports of commodities that can be produced in Africa.
Dr Adesina said Africa has to move to the top of key agricultural value chains as opposed to low value addition to agricultural commodities and predominantly primary production.
He said Africa needs to look at agriculture in a different perceptive if the continent is to actualise its dream of diversification.
Dr Adesina said agriculture has the potential to stabilise economies and should be looked at as a business.
â€œWe canâ€™t keep sitting on potential, we need to change our mindset, agriculture is a business. Why is it that people in agriculture are poor? We must change this, agriculture is a business and a source of creating wealth and employment,â€ he said.
Dr Adesina also said there is need to revisit most curriculums in tertiary education institutions, which are outdated and not relevant to modern times.
â€œWhen we talk about research, let us talk about research that has impact and not academic benefits. We need to change those curriculums taught in the â€˜50s as they are not applicable to recent times. People donâ€™t eat paper, they eat food,â€ Dr Adesina said.
And AfDB director of the Agriculture and Agro-Industry Department Chiji Ojukwu said in a presentation dubbed â€œThe road to agricultural transformation in Africaâ€, that strategies have been made to increase agricultural productivity.
Mr Ojukwu said to achieve the â€œFeed Africaâ€ goal, there is need for substantial investment in the agriculture sector.
He said a total of about US$315 to US$400 billion is required in the next 10 years to transform the agriculture sector in Africa.
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) associate vice-president for programme management department, Perin Saint-Ange, said IFAD has committed US$500 million annually to the development of the agricultural sector in Africa for a period of three years.
Mr Saint-Ange said the aid will target small-scale farmers and youths so that they can have access to better technology, farm inputs, processing facilities and markets.
Food and Agriculture Organisation assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa Bukar Tijani said there is need to speed up the process of developing the agriculture sector in Africa.
Mr Tijani said the process should not take too long, but rather less than 10 years, and applauded various stakeholders that are working towards supporting the sector on the continent.
VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka