Agriculture- Africa’s economic woes

Agriculture, which has been tagged as the basis of Africa’s survival, is rather fast becoming the bedrock of poverty in the continent.

I have read numerous articles on ensuring sustainable agriculture in Africa. It appears our leaders have it all wrong, as they have only been laying too much emphasis on grass root production. This approach enforces the presence of abject poverty in the continent.

Agriculture today if not practiced with the application of modern methods would keep farmers living below the poverty line. Having many living below the poverty line increases the burden on respective African governments. Taxes received from farmers are too small and hence can not aid majority of government programs. This explains why many African countries, especially those depending on agriculture for main source of revenue such as Niger are characterized by poor governments. Truly, the minimum wage in any country should be at least $1,600 per month before tax. Anything short of this will keep workers living below the poverty line and would thus keep governments handicapped. In order to achieve a new prosperous Africa, standards must be pepped up.

For farmers to live comfortably, the number of hands employed in farm labour must be drastically reduced. A good point to note, countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Burundi have 70%, 70% and 93.6% respectively of their total population involved in active farming struggling to meet up to the basic minimum living standards, unlike first world countries such as Canada, UK and South Africa with less than 20% of the total population involved in active farming.  There is thus a correlation between the percentage population of a nation actively involved in agriculture and the poverty level of that country. Hence Ethiopia, Nigeria and Burundi have roughly 70% of their population living below the poverty line as compared to The Netherlands which has 2% actively involved in agriculture and 10.5% of the population living below the poverty line.

Understanding the complexity of present day agriculture involves understanding the woven nature among various contemporary agricultural sectors. Today, almost all industries such as farming, processing, marketing and the health industries have come together to form what is now known as the Agricultural Industry. Numerous professions have thus become intertwined in the agricultural industry, which has formed the bedrock of the economy of most advanced nations. If any of these branches are separated from this great industry, it would lead to the gradual collapse of that nation.

It is impossible to employ archaic methods such as the use of oxen in modern day agriculture as it was done back then in Timbuktu. Without doubt, going centuries back this would have been considered the magnum opus of technology considering the fact that the Europeans were still using their hands at that time. Today, it is no longer a large people tilling the soil with hoes and cutlasses. This is the era of highly mechanized agriculture.

It thus implies that for one to maintain a farm and live within the comfort zone, we must reduce the labour force of our farming units while ensuring production at the same (if not higher) level. This beyond doubts requires massive investment in infrastructure and equipment. It involves highly mechanised farming. Better explained, 5000 laying birds whose profit would have been shared by 50 workers (usually households) should be shared by 15 or less workers of which less than half the number should be actively involved in real farming. The others make up drivers, accountants etc.

The bulk of the agricultural driving force in any nation is the middle class. As these have the minimum capital to invest in agriculture and acquire the minimum number of animals or crops to ensure a reasonable steady income as well as to build on the size of their farming unit. The lower class are often characterised by small farm holding not enough to maintain an individual. Having low paying jobs has resulted in the quest to delve into farming as a means of fulfilling the needs of the family. This form of diverted labour and attention is not good for the general wellbeing of any nation. Even though a little income could be obtained from such practices, it has left the African farmers unable to produce more than they could use to feed their families. To spend 5-8 hrs on a job implies that such a job must produce something tangible. Hence, such farming can be termed a waste of valuable time, resource and labour. In Africa, the higher class usually own large farms not for profit but for prestige or to satisfy childhood ambitions.

In Africa today, the middle class is gradually being eroded and hence food production is gradually becoming short. The middle class can be resuscitated though through government sponsored programs channelled at reactivating the middle class.

Reducing the excess hands involved in farming would leave a vast number of hands unemployed. To compete with the first world, we must think ahead. The driving force of an economy is made up of industries and services. This is where government and other organisations should get involved in. Hands relieved from the farms should be channelled into processing and services. Farm produce can be processed to its final form prior to export. Such industries hire more labour hands than grass root farming outfits and also ensure workers meet up to the basic minimum wage. Government can thus receive money in forms of tax from the payment of those in such services. This for sure would yield higher tax per caput as compared to what would have been received from poverty stricken farm workers living below the poverty line. Such funds received from tax can be diverted to other ailing sectors such as health, education or even agriculture.

We are currently in a fast paced world. Bigger nations are out to grab what they can get while at the same time ensuring that weaker nations continue to struggle in abject poverty in order to furnish the lavish lives of their populace. It is thus obvious that Africa must look from within and come out with her own strategy to improve her pathetic state. Relying on the western countries means condemning ones future to everlasting poverty. For instance, the billions of dollars promised to Africa by the UK in 2008 was just to ensure that African farmers have seeds and fertilizers to sustain an uninterrupted supply of raw materials to their ex-colonial masters. The time has come for heroic deeds. African governments must invest in highly mechanized agriculture as well as boost their processing industries and other industries in order to make the highest profit from their produce. This is the only way African nations can halt the pathogenic nature of poverty in Africa.

Jovi Otite

Jovi Otite (Ph.d) is the co-founder of BornBlack. He is an Animal Science Expert in Animal Reproduction, agriculture and alternative renewable energy.

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