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Farmers told to capitalise on Africa’s food deficit

By Macharia Kamau | October 3rd 2012

By Macharia Kamau

Farmers should capitalise on food insufficiency in their local markets before exporting.

This way, they can earn more and in a cost effective manner. Countries that give incentives to farmers to intensify food production also save on money spent importing food, which runs into billions of dollars for every year.

Gary Toenniessen, the managing director Rockefeller Foundation, noted that while there are opportunities in international markets for African small scale farmers, the local, national and regional markets offer them more opportunity, especially given the status of food security in Africa.

“I believe farmers should first of all look at the local, national and regional markets. In almost all these markets, African countries are currently importing food and the local and national markets should be the first place to look for markets,” he said.

From a standpoint of national economies, there should be efforts for import substitution. “If a country is importing vegetable oil, why not have incentives and get farmers to produce soy oil, palm oil or other vegetable oils that substitute what a particular country imports.”

More effective markets

Toenniessen, who spoke to The Standard on the sidelines of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) concluded Friday in Arusha Tanzania, also emphasised the need to build more efficient local, national and regional agriculture markets and establishing mechanisms to avail information to farmers on market prices of their commodities.

“Enabling a small holder farmer to get an income from his farming activities ensures that they are able to buy food that they do not produce and plays a great part in dealing with food insecurity ... Given that in most instances, subsistence farmers in Africa are the most food insecure.”

Most African countries import food commodities to complrment local production. This usually has an effect on growing a country’s import bill.

Kenya, for instance, imports about 10 million 90kg bags of maize to supplement about 30 million bags produced locally and meet the annual consumption of about 40 million bags.

And maize is just one of the food item that the country imports, others include rice. This is despite having ample arable land that can be used to grow food for local consumption and even surplus for export.

Jane Karuku, president AGRA, says small-scale farmers could achieve more productivity and increased income if the agricultural value chain worked well. This would mean farmers access inputs on time, and get better access to markets for their staple crops.

“If we can foster agriculture at all levels by linking all stakeholders in the sector, ensuing that farmers have access to quality imports, and also to better and well paying markets for their products,” she said.

At the forum, government officials agreed to reinforce capacity for regional trade through regionalising commodity trade and harmonising trade regimes. 

This would entail removing trade barriers across countries and share knowledge and market information across borders.

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