Africa's lack of interest in agriculture blamed for persistent food shortages


Kariuki Gatiba, a trader, arranges groceries at Nyeri Town Market on May 3, 2023. 

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Dar es Salaam

Africa’s low-level investments in agriculture is fueling continual food shortage on the continent, in what could indicate that lack of political will, rather than weather patterns or conflict is directly at fault.

Leaders and experts gathering in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania, have been told this week that continued poor investments in agricultural production including use of modern technology are hurting continental ambitions to feed itself. And its rising population is not helping.

Since Monday, Africa’s top brains in food security have been discussing proper policy in agriculture at the Africa Green Revolution Forum. And they have been consistent in calling for  huge investments in agriculture to ward off food insecurity caused by the prolonged droughts.

The Forum is the premier platform for advancing the agriculture and food systems agenda on the continent, from food security to agri-food investments which experts have noted is still low in most African countries. And leaders such as President Samia Suluhu, the host, Senegal’s Macky Sall and Kenya’s President William Ruto have attended sessions here.

Tanzania’s Vice-President Philip Mpango who earlier opened the summit, outlined four critical areas of considerations in transforming food systems in Africa so as to end hunger and foster economic growth.

According to him, the key area would be to harness existing scientific knowledge as well as employing multi-sectoral development approaches. For Africa, he said, it is not just bad policy. It is also lack of investments to produce good seed, test the soils and protect what is harvested from the bad elements, what experts call post-harvest losses.

Experts here have cited multiple reports including the recent study by the International Federation of the Red Cross which said a fifth of Africa’s 1.3 billion people go to bed hungry every day. Africa’s food import bill is $75 billion per year  but 22 million more people will get hungry by January. The figures by the State of Food Security and Nutrition Report of July 2023, say Africa’s food crisis is twice the global average. 

Dr Mpango told the forum inadequate financing of food value chains is also still a major constraint, mainly due to high cost of borrowing for the agriculture sector. Additionally, women and youth tend to be the most financially excluded segments of the population.

The looming food deficit, coupled with rising import bills and a wide range of nutritional challenges, undermine regional output growth and the continent’s drive towards Agenda 2063.

The VP cited Tanzania like many other countries saying that it remains vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change, pest outbreaks and soil degradation. Other challenges include limited access to right technologies, underfunding of scientific research and limited value addition.

The 2023 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR23) unveiled on the first day of the summit proceedings, revealed that with emphasis put on the repercussions of inaction which are not only confined to hunger and malnutrition but extend to economic, social and environmental domains, has undermined the progress made over the years.

Dr Agnes Kalibata, the President of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) says a rapid population growth and climate change are Africa’s “dual challenge” which must be fought as one.

“Finding new financing mechanisms will be paramount in shaping a prosperous and food secure future for all its citizens,” she said.