Experts say Africa needs agricultural market reforms if it’s going to overcome food shortages and high prices. A new report outlines what it calls high payoff, low-cost solutions.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, and the International Livestock Research Institute say there are “substantial inefficiencies” in trade, transportation, communication, credit and storage in Africa.
At the mercy of the gods
“Some of the problems are weather related. There is a major drought or a flood or locusts. It happened in West Africa. The farmers have no surplus to sell,” said Anne Mbaabu of Kenya, AGRA’s director for market access.
The report says few African farmers use irrigation systems.
“As long as they are dependent on the weather, rain-fed agriculture, then you are at the mercy of the gods,” she said.
It’s estimated seven out of 10 Africans make their living in farming.
“One year you might be having a bumper crop and the market is not ready to take the surpluses. The next year you end up with an acute shortage,” said Mbaabu.
The report also says there’s no comprehensive regional trade policy. Mbaabu says one leader could threaten food security by taking unilateral action to withhold his country’s food reserves.
“One government may wake up and say no food exports because we think we are going to have a deficit. That throws the whole region in kind of a spin. And the reason they’re doing this basically because they don’t have food information or evidence-based data to let them know what food is available in their country or not available,” she said.
The report estimates the continent’s market for milk, meat, maize, rice, sorghum and millet is worth $150 billion a year. It says that “far exceeds” Africa’s market for internationally traded cash crops like coffee, tea and flowers.
Recommendations include so-called high payoff, low cost solutions. These include the use of mobile phones to provide farmers with the latest market prices or to receive the latest weather forecast.
Mbaabu said, “Very few countries are able to offer that because their weather stations are either dilapidated or very few.”
Phone messages could advise farmers on choosing the best crops and when to plant them.
Another recommendation to help ensure food security is the use of storage facilities and warehouses to protect against spoilage, pests and plant diseases. It’s estimated between 25 and 50 percent of African farm crops rot in the field and that tens of millions of dollars’ worth of milk becomes spoiled.
If the recommendations are implemented?
“The benefits are enormous. It would be a food-secure continent. Every household would have enough to eat, better health. You have fewer deaths from malnutrition. You have fewer children going to bed hungry. On the other hand, farmers would be able to have some income from selling their surplus produce,” she said.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa says it has invested $30 million over the last four years to improve agricultural market opportunities.