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While leaders talk and talk, Africa’s food crisis worsens

By Dr John Kakonge | December 2nd 2021

Low-cost technologies are available to improve post-harvest losses. [Courtesy]

For decades, people have been debating agricultural productivity in Africa in international conferences and national policy forums. So why has so little progress has been made in improving agricultural production and improving rural livelihoods? 

For example, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) was launched in Maputo in 2003 with the aim of raising agricultural productivity by at least 6 per cent per year and increasing public investment in agriculture to 10 per cent of national budgets per year. This was followed by the 2014 Malabo Declaration on accelerated agricultural growth. Seven years later, food issues are still a topic of discussion. Why?

Few countries have implemented either the Malabo or the Maputo Declaration and to prioritize the allocation of a minimum of 10 per cent of their national budgets to the agriculture sector. 

In 2010, sub-Saharan Africa allocated a mere 3 per cent of its total expenditure to agriculture and, over the period 2008–2014, Africa failed to achieve the CAADP goal. More important, many African countries cannot reach the 10 per cent target. But all is not lost.

Africa has a population of 1.2 billion people, of whom 60 per cent are below 35 years of age. Traditionally, farming has been viewed as difficult, risky, and laborious work – reasons why young people may have been reluctant to remain in – or to take up – the occupation. By making visible the successes of other young farmers, social media has encouraged other young people to perceive agribusiness as a viable way of earning a good living that offers more than standard office jobs. 

But then the youth lack land. As a start, land ought to be easily available to them. Many short-season, high yield crops do not need a lot of land and so the youth who want to venture into farming can be helped with funds to rent the land.

Secondly, there is just too much idle arable land which needs to be utilised. In Kenya, for example, many landowners hold land as an investment, accruing profits from the appreciation of its value and making no effort to put the land to any productive use. This, coupled with increasing population pressures, undermines food self-sufficiency.

To address this, idle land could be taxed. The levying of a tax on unused land should serve as an incentive for landowners to make use of the land, either by farming it themselves or leasing it out to others who are willing to do so. An aggressive tax enforcement will start with updating the Land Register. 

Third is post-harvest losses. A 2017 study confirmed that Kenya produced 37 million bags of food, of which 12 per cent was estimated to have been lost post-harvest – equivalent to 4.8 million bags of food. Kenya loses about 20 per cent of its cereals before they reach the market, through poor food handling, storage and sanitation, rodents, weevils, moths and other pests. Yet these losses are preventable.

Low-cost technologies are available to improve post-harvest losses but they need to be more aggressively implemented in partnership with the private sector and other stakeholders.

Dr Kakonge is a former Kenya Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the UN Office and WTO in Geneva. [email protected]

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