The right policies for African Agriculture

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The right policies for African Agriculture.

The majority of farmers in Africa are smallholders, farming less than 2 hectares. While Dobie recognizes such farming systems can be extremely productive (and that presently a large proportion of Africa’s food comes from smallholders) the fact remains that 23 per cent of Africans are undernourished and much of this is due to poor agricultural output. What are needed are broad-based policies that tackle poverty among smallholders now, and prepare the way for a transformation of African agriculture for the future, says Dobie.

Climate change is predicted to have a drastic impact on food production, especially in Africa, making it even more difficult for smallholder farmers to sustain their livelihoods through agriculture. Increasing the efficiency of large-scale land use should provide the investment which is needed to adapt to climate change, argues Dobie.

What is needed in Africa are a range of improvements to many aspects of crop production at once. For example: technologies that improve soil fertility such as fertilizer trees; secure rights to use land so that farmers are motivated to make long-term investments in land management or cash-in and find other ways of earning a living; and better access by farmers to credit and insurance that will encourage investment and reduce risks.

The way agriculture fits within the entire ecological system must also be considered. Farming co-exists alongside a range of different land uses – trees that control the supply of water, grasslands upon which livestock depend, insects that pollinate crops – that all affect production. Policy makers need to take account of this mosaic and the multiple benefits of landscapes.

“Policy makers in Africa have an important role in enabling a transformation of agriculture,” says Dobie. “They need to develop policies that increase production, incomes and food security for smallholders while encouraging farming to evolve from its smallholder base into larger farms.” This, he says, can be achieved through diversification of agriculture on the continent, planting more high-value crops, value adding through local processing and the adoption of new technologies.

Getting policymakers to understand the need for improving entire crop production and marketing systems is a major challenge. Dobie advocates for taking agricultural development out of its exclusive agricultural silo and bringing in policy makers and practitioners from other sectors such as finance, water resources, transport, infrastructure and banking.

“There is no single policy for agriculture in Africa,” concludes Dobie. “It will take a range of mutually reinforcing policies across a number of sectors to lead us towards agriculture that is truly climate-smart.

Source: Kate Langford.

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