Agriculture: Tool for development?


By Dyson Mthawanji:


Agriculture in Africa has a massive social and economic footprint.

More than 60 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 23 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture.


Yet, Africa’s full agricultural potential remains untapped.

According to various analyses, Africa could produce two to three times more cereals and grains, which would add 20 percent more cereals and grains to the current worldwide 2.6 billion tonnes of output.

Similar increases could be seen in the production of horticulture crops and livestock. Realising Africa’s full agricultural potential will require significant investment.


Sub-Saharan Africa will need eight times more fertiliser, six times more improved seed, at least $8 billion of investment in basic storage (not including cold-chain investments for horticulture or animal products), and $65 billion in irrigation to fulfil its agricultural promise.

Much investment will also be needed in basic infrastructure, such as roads, ports, and electricity, plus improvements in policies and regional trade flows.

On July 7 2019, many African countries celebrated the first-ever World Food Safety Day to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.

This was championed by Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao).

Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) member states recognise the importance of agriculture to economic growth, social-economic development and poverty reduction, and the attainment of Sadc common agenda as articulated in Sadc Treaty of 1992 under Article 5 and further specified in the report on the review of operations of Sadc institutions of March 2001.

Sadc member states emphasised in the 2003 Sadc Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan that co-operation and togetherness was crucial for sustainable food security.

Food security, as defined in Dar-es Salaam Declaration of 2004, aims to achieve lasting access to safe and adequate food at all times by all people of Sadc for an active and healthy


Furthermore, the member states acknowledge the decision to adopt the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme) at Maputo Summit of the African Union (AU) in July 2003 as a framework for accelerating agricultural development and food security on the continent.

Regardless of these acknowledgements, African countries face food shortages.

For example, a Sadc Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Programme (Rvaa) results for 2019 says that over 1.1 million Malawians face hunger between October 2019 and March 2020 with 676,000 already affected by food shortage.

The European Union (EU) has given Sadc nine million euros to operationalize the regional agriculture policy (Rap).

Rap says for the region to attain regional food and nutrition security in the short to medium term, access to affordable, appropriate and cost-effective productivity – enhancing inputs, including improved plant and animal genetic material, and enhanced application of mineral and/or organics nutrients to correct soil fertility, must be prioritised.

To increase productivity, agricultural activities must aim at reducing pre-and post-harvest losses.

This requires the management of pests and diseases and the provision of appropriate market infrastructure and services.

But are individual countries walking the talk on this transformational journey?


National Agriculture Policy (Nap) is among the recent developed policies which define the vision for development of the agricultural sector in Malawi over the next five years.

It states that “by 2020, agriculture in Malawi will increasingly be oriented towards profitable commercial farming through specialisation of smallholder farm production, output diversification at the national level and value addition in downstream value chains.

Interestingly, 2020 is next year. Thus, whether Malawi will achieve this dream or not is the discussion for another day.

Nap aims to ensure sustainable agricultural production, increased mechanisation, increased area under irrigation, increased agro processing and value addition, enhanced risk management, strengthened marketing systems, accelerated export growth, and improved food security and nutrition”.

Furthermore, Malawi has National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP) which is an agricultural investment framework for the government to coordinate and harmonise investments in the agriculture sector.


In 2017, Government of Zambia launched a new Nap and the strategy on the national agricultural extension and advisory services.

The two documents were developed to take into account the challenges identified by Zambia’s stakeholders in the agriculture sector.

This Zambia’s second Nap encompasses agriculture diversification which will help focus on crops apart from maize. The policy also focuses on increasing production and productivity, noting the need for the country to take maximum advantage of the resources available to increase production. The policy document also includes the promotion of irrigation farming unlike the case has been on Zambian soil where once the rains have ended, farmers become unproductive.

During the launch of these documents, the then minister of agriculture Dora Siliya (now the information minister) was confident that the two documents will help improve the agriculture sector.

The strategy on national agricultural extension and advisory services is intended to provide stakeholders on extension services delivery within the framework to deliver effective pluralistic extension services to accelerate agriculture transformation and contribute to poverty reduction.

Zambia has just unveiled a $7 million project aimed at addressing crop pests and animal diseases to boost the agriculture sector.

The project is under the money that European Union (EU) has given to Sadc, nine million euros, to operationalise the RAP. From this project, which runs for three years, Zambia will benefit $7 million to address pests such as fall army

worms that pose a threat to crop production.

Zambia’s Ministry of Agriculture Permanent Secretary, Songowayo Zyambo said “the continuous attacks on crops and animals by pests such as fall army worms’ poses a threat to crop production hence the need for concerted efforts from the public and private sector in addressing the challenge.”

For the past years, Malawi has also been hit by these pests.

This shows that most African countries mainly in Sadc share agricultural problems.

Thus, this demands joint efforts in overcoming these challenges.

Zyambo said Zambia has the potential to expand its export market size as evidenced by the recent export of 20,000 metric tonnes of maize seed per annum worth $26million.

He said in Zambia’s 2019/2020 farming season, maize seed under Farmers Input Support Programme will be treated with army worm chemicals to ensure that the pest do not attack the crop in the first four weeks after planting.

Malawi and other Sadc countries should emulate this.

South Africa

South Africa whose agriculture slogan is “Together we move South Africa forward”, intends to focus on improving food security; creating jobs; increasing the contribution of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors to GDP, enhancing primary animal healthcare services and enabling trade in the global economy.

South Africa launched the National Development Plan which sets out a broad vision of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030.

The plan intends to align its efforts on agriculture among other areas.

The Rainbow Nation also expects to implement the Agricultural Pan, which focuses on value chains with high potential for food security, job creation and economic contribution; the revitalisation of the agricultural and agro-processing value chain and Operation Phakisa.

The South African economy grew by 1.3 percent in 2017, exceeding National Treasury’s expectation of 1.0 percent growth announced during the National Budget Speech in February 2017.

The strengthening in economic activity in 2017 was partly driven by agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors recovering from one of the worst droughts in recent history.

In 2017, the sectors’ contribution to GDP was 2.4 percent.

The total volume of South African agriculture production for 2017 was estimated at 62.9 million tonnes compared to 50.8 million tonnes in 2016.

This represented a 24 percent increase in production, which was attributed to the bumper summer crop harvest following good rainfalls during the season.

According to statistics, South Africa’s 2017 General Household Survey, only 15.6 percent of South African households were involved in agricultural production.

Most crop production took place in backyard gardens, and

households involved in agricultural activities were mostly engaged in production of food.

Private sector intervention

Many commentators have turned their heads to private sector calling them to invest in agriculture.

When private companies are asked to consider investing in African agriculture, they demand to know about what would spur growth in the sector, particularly regarding which countries to pursue, the role of land expansion, the potential for larger-scale farming, and overall cost competitiveness. Therefore, addressing these topics will help companies focus on the solutions that are mostly likely to propel growth in agriculture in Africa.

Analysing productivity potential across 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa showed that nine countries make up 60 percent of the total potential, with Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tanzania comprising half of that.

While this potential is highly concentrated, the significant variation in agricultural development and policy on the continent means differentiated approaches are required for each market.

The three highest-potential countries illustrate this variation well with respect to government involvement in agriculture, enabling environment, and factors such as improved input adoption.

Few companies in Africa invest in agriculture. One of them is Illovo Sugar Group.

The group is Africa’s biggest sugar producer and has extensive agricultural and manufacturing operations in six African countries.

The group produces raw and refined sugar for local, regional African, EU, United States of America (USA) and world markets from sugar cane supplied by its own agricultural operations and independent out-growers who supply cane to Illovo’s factories.

Farmers in African countries should be strategic on the marketable and profitable crop to grow rather than sticking to traditional crops in their areas.

Kenya is now the largest exporter of avocados to Northern Europe. In 2017, Kenya exported $78 million worth of vocados. Most farmers cut down their mango trees to grow avocados.

In Kenya, there is a company called Kakuzi which is doing an outgrower scheme buying the fruit from local farmers. This company grows 700 hectares of avocados.

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