Analysis: Modern farming in Africa demands professionalism

By Reuben Quainoo

June 11, 2020

The African continent, which is poised to see millions of workers enter the job market, is already experiencing massive youth unemployment and widespread reliance on precarious jobs, including those in agriculture.

This is the time for smallholder farmers to embrace a new mindset and recognize that what used to work in the past will not necessarily work anymore, especially as the world is facing the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, plant pests and diseases and lack of financial support for smallholder farmers across the continent.

Farming is back-breaking labor. Literally. Most farmers in Africa today have very limited access to improved farming equipment or machinery, which means they use centuries-old tools such as the hand hoe and animal- powered plows. But to be better business men and women, they need access to a variety of resources, namely finance, education and inputs.

According to recent United Nations forecasts, the continent is expected to more than double its population by 2050, growing from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants. Most importantly, half of that population will be less than 25 years old, which raises the urgent question of whether Africa’s economy has the capacity to absorb the millions of new arrivals that will soon flood its job market.

World Bank figures show that young people represent 60 percent of the unemployed in Africa. The most recent report by the International Labor Organization (ILO), published in 2018, indicates that 94.9 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Africa work in the informal economy. This figure is as high as 97.9 percent in West Africa.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has noted in a report on the coronavirus pandemic that about 2 million people are vulnerable to become food insecure in Ghana if COVID-19 disrupts the planting season for 2020. The report, which was published on May 16, said: “About 1.5 million people in Ghana (approximately 5 percent of population) are food insecure and 2 million people are vulnerable to become food insecure if COVID disrupts the planting season for 2020.”

The measures introduced by governments to deal with the COVID-19, which include restrictions on movement of persons, are affecting the ability of farmers to harvest and sell their produce, AGRA also noted.

In Ethiopia, for example, the government has projected that food production in the upcoming season could be lower by 8 percent due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Government-mandated restrictions around the movement of people and the need for social distancing continues to pose challenges for farmers, especially in Southern Africa, where countries are in the harvest season and workers must gather for harvesting, cleaning and packing crops for transport,” the report stated.

The way forward

First, farming should be seen as a serious business both by the government and smallholder farmers across Africa. Farmers must appreciate that what used to work in the past will not necessarily work anymore, and it is time for a change in mindset. Smallholder farmers must have in mind that about 2 million people are vulnerable to become food insecure in Ghana and these 2 million individuals are ready to purchase their products. This is a good business opportunity, if you ask me.

Second, our smallholder farmers should be encouraged to go for courses, trainings and seminars to broaden their mind about modern agriculture.

Third, operational excellence is a must in today’s world and smallholder farmers are not exempt. No organizations, public or private, exist without customers — they are the reason you have a business and you must gear towards satisfying the customer.

Fourth, the youth of today must not see farming as a last resort. Why? Africa’s richest man is into farming. So is it a bad business? Not in my opinion.

Lastly, the 94.9 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 on the Africa continent must be targeted and encouraged to study agriculture at the university or diploma levels. This would help them understand the sector better before they get to the world of work.

As Akin Adesina, president of the African Development Bank and Nigeria’s former Minister of Agriculture, noted: “Agriculture is not a way of life… Agriculture is a business.”

To be a better business men and women, farmers need access to a variety of resources, including finance, education and inputs — all of which can be provided or accelerated by the use of mobile money or agricultural extension platforms.

It’s time for a new mindset among farmers, government, lenders and youth in order to move agriculture forward in Africa.

Reuben Quainoo is an agriculturist, prize-winning journalist and 2018 Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow.

Image: Shutterstock