Study questions African agriculture's ability to support development strategy

by Susan Reidy
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Farmers face longer dry seasons and more intense rainfalls.
 
ABIDJAN, WEST AFRICA – African agriculture in its present state may not have the ability to support an agro-industrial strategy, according to a study from the Meredith Hanlon Department of Economics, Environmental Science and Biology, at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, U.S.

 

The study, entitled “Is African Agriculture Sustainable Enough to Support an Agro-Allied Industrial Development Strategy? Evidence from Ghana and Nigeria,” was presented at a session on agricultural sustainability at the 2016 African Economic Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, by Stephen Onyeiwu, a professor at Allegheny College. The conference started on Dec. 5 and continues to Dec. 7.

The 11th African Economic Conference, organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the UN Economic Commission Africa (ECA), has as its theme “Feeding Africa: Towards Agro-Allied Industrialization for Inclusive Growth.”

Onyeiwu proposed what he described as the sustainable agro-entrepreneurial model as a way to boost productivity of African farmers, while calling on governments to engage in innovative financing.

“This sector suffers from environmental degradation and climate change impact. Our approach looks at the environment, equity and sustainability,” he said.

Onyeiwu then identified some of the current challenges faced by African farmers, including longer dry seasons, more intense rainfalls. Other limitations to mechanized farming, he added, include discouraging land tenure systems, landscapes and whether they are amenable to large tractors, and low technical skills for mechanization.

“Mechanization can be done, but whether it can be done in a sustainable manner is what we need to determine,” he said. “When we talk to the farmers, they say the rains are too much and more torrential. The rate of deforestation is also very high, leading to very high loss in forest cover, causing erosion and washing away nutrients.”

He also spoke of low fertilizer use, which he said has not helped soil yields.

Onyeiwu, whose paper looked at the innovative approaches used by farmers in two countries under focus – Nigeria and Ghana – stressed how sound economic policies could help improve the lot of farmers.

He urged countries to explore alternative forms of farming, while turning agriculture into businesses in a way that turns environmental challenges around.

Onyeiwu gave examples of how some farmers in Nigeria and Ghana were moving away from traditional production and combining food production and nutrient recycling in a sustainable manner.

“There are so many pathways to making agriculture sustainable. Governments, policy-makers and stakeholders should identify entrepreneurs like these and support them,” he said.

He disagreed with the notion that African farmers were not knowledgeable, stressing that such farmers were skilled and know the basic innovative things to do in their farms.

“They only need to be assisted technically to make agriculture a sustainable business. They require creative interventions like incentives to integrate technology,” he said.

Answering questions from participants in the session, Onyeiwu emphasized that agricultural sustainability had environmental, economic and equity dimensions.

“We need to begin to change the misconceptions about agriculture and let it be known that it is a legitimate profession and not meant only for those who don't have anything to do,” he said. 

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