In Africa 2 in 3 people are farmers and 50% of them are women. However, there haven’t been great investments in the agricultural activity: only 25% of sub-Saharan arable land is used and only 7% of it is irrigated. On the contrary, in Asia irrigated land is 28% of the total, while in the world it is around 20%.
According to what the Nobel Prize Laureate Wangari Maathari says, Africans have ignored agriculture for a cultural reason, as they consider it as a demeaning job. Obviously, it’s not simple to work the soil in sub-Saharan area: there are lots of difficulties, such as water availability, worsening climate conditions and the difficulty of accessing the market.
80% of African farms are managed by small farmers, which can’t have the resources to face these adverse conditions. Therefore Africa, despite its arable lands, can’t feed its people. At best, it feeds the farms’ owners.
Agricultural products’ import is high: import is worth 40 billion dollars, while export 15 billion. They buy from abroad cereals, maize, rice, sugar, vegetable oils, meat. They export coffee, cocoa, spices, tobacco, fruit, vegetables, flowers.
According to the findings of Federico Bonaglia and Lucia Wegner’s book “Africa, un continente in movimento”, if only Guinea Savannah, a 600 – million – hectares land from Senegal to Nigeria, was cultivated, it could offer twice as much corn as the world produces. Today only 10% of this land is cultivated. In all sub-Saharan Africa productivity is poor and they produce 1 ton of cereals each hectare, while in other developing countries they produce 3 tons each hectare and in Italy we produce 10 tons.
Moreover, they often don’t let soil lie fallow, causing it to get poorer and damaging future productivity.
When talking about agriculture in Africa, we must also talk about new kinds of neo-colonialism: first of all, the land grabbing, that is the run for lands of foreign powers, gaining the best land by using their economic supremacy and then exploiting it only for monocultures.
Then, as much important, the transports’ and waste food’s problems: today it is estimated that 4 billion dollars of year’s corn productivity are lost. If this amount was correctly used, it could feed 50 million people. Roads are not adequate and vehicles transporting food can’t guarantee a cooling chain.
Maybe farms should be more structured and aware, trained for their functions and able to improve lands’ productivity they invest on. Suitable services for food’s growing demand are needed.
In a word, there should be government’s investments in research, assistance and training for farmers, new irrigation methods and suitable roads, even in rural areas.
Anyway, despite this merciless overview, there is an unexpressed possibility which, if swung into action, could develop a great potential.