PUBLISHED ON July 24th, 2014


A new report commissioned by the African Development Bank (AfDB) has dug up some pay dirt on the constraints hampering exploitation of sub-Saharan Africa agriculture to its full potential. Published last week, the report titled ‘Inclusive Growth: An Imperative for African Agriculture’, states that Africa has the potential to attract $880 billion dollars investment in agriculture by 2030.

The authors, Benedict Kanu, Adeleke Olwole Salami and Kazuhiro Namasawa say investment opportunities in agriculture abound in Africa, and the continent accounts for about 60% of the uncultivated arable land in the world.

AfDB President Donald Kaberuka said in his remarks, “It would be beneficial that investors target agriculture in Africa like they have done already for mining, housing and telecommunication.”

It is also estimated that Africa has the potential to increase the value of its annual agricultural output from $280 billion in 2010 to about $500 billion by 2020 and to $880 billion by 2030.

However, the trio say African countries are still facing challenges that are inimical to agricultural productivity and inclusive growth.

The publication is part of the Bank’s efforts to assess and document recent lessons and experiences emerging from its long years of assistance to agriculture and agro-industry.

It is important to emphasize that some of these challenges are peculiar and unique to each African country. However, most are similar in nature and can be addressed with common solutions across countries. It is also worth noting that the majority of these challenges are well known, but they remain chronic and unresolved.

These constraints disproportionately impact particularly the smallholder farmers – the majority of whom reside in rural areas, resulting in low productivity and barriers to inclusive growth.

In spite of the fact that agriculture is the employer of the majority of Africa’s labour force, it has had limited impact on their livelihoods.

The situation now requires a new approach, because what is being done to date to promote agricultural productivity is inadequate. For example, the unclear property rights and uncertainties around land tenure have persistently reduced farmers’ access to land and their incentives to invest. Average farm size in Africa is small (2.5 hectares) when compared with North America (121 ha), Latin America (67 ha) and Europe (27 ha).

For most agricultural production outside a few plantation crops, however, there is no evidence of economies of size. Where appropriate policy environment and investment are prioritized for agriculture, then smallholdings can be just as productive and profitable as large farms. This explains why the average holding is comparatively lower in Asia (1.8 ha in South-East Asia and 1.4 ha in South Asia, respectively), yet cereal yields are three times less in Africa than Asia.

In Africa, unequal distribution of land and lack of adequate administrative systems have relegated a growing population of small farmers into marginal areas, leading to lower productivity and income levels.

The system of patriarchy has tended to discriminate against women when it comes to ownership and control of land resources .

This has been reinforced by the imported land law that tends to cement the system of patriarchy by conferring title and inheritance rights upon male family members.

African countries are also threatened by land degradation, contributing to land erosion, loss of fertility and declining yields.

Improved access to input and output markets is an important ingredient for agricultural productivity, growth and food security.

On the input side, mechanisation is very low at an average of only 13 tractors per 100 square kilometres of arable land, versus the world average of 200 tractors per 100 square kilometres. In the same vein, the average fertilizer application rate for arable crops in Africa is estimated at 8 kilogramme/ha/year, far less than

the world average of 100 kg/ha/year.

On the output side, African farmers, particularly smallholder farmers are uncompetitive in global markets and have limited access to markets for their outputs due to lack of infrastructure and undeveloped supply chains.

Furthermore, even if some supply chains exist, smallholder farmers have been unable to link into supermarket chains due to the required quality and safety standards, as well as delivery schedules that prevent them from competing in such markets.

The poor rural infrastructure, in particular transport, electricity, storage and irrigation facilities, persistently remains a significant challenge.

Source: East African Business Week

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.