Why African Leaders Need to Pay More Attention to Agriculture – Lanre Olagunju

It is sad, but the reality is that, majority of the 800 million people all over the world who are badly affected by hunger are in Africa. And the reasons for this are quite enormous. Listing the reasons for the acute hunger in Africa will be incomplete without considering the inability of African leaders to stay true to their 2003 commitment, where they pledged to increase support for women who are into small-scale farming, since they actually do the bulk of the farming for the continent.

Eleven years ago in Maputo, African leaders made a commitment to devote 10 per cent of their national budgets to boost agriculture. Plus, 2014 has been said to be the Year of Agriculture and Food Nutrition Security. But looking at the inability to fulfill a promise made over a decade ago, you and I know that that the 2014 goal is just an empty phrase.

It is sad how African leaders attend conferences, analyze continental problems, and then make declarations and commitments from the political sides of their mouths, then decades later, nothing happens. For short, it simply means that hunger will dwell in Africa longer than hungry Africans can imagine. It is not doom-saying, the realities are everywhere. Only about nine countries have fulfilled the commitment made in Maputo, whereas countries like Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, and Zambia have never been consistent with the ten percent commitment to agriculture.

In fact, ActionAid recently sounded a clear warning to African governments clamouring that without channelling more funds into agriculture and making sure that the said funds go to small scale farmers, hunger will continue to increase. Experts have said severally that if women get equal access to seeds and land like men do, world over, hunger would be reduced by 17.5 percent. That means 140 million people will stop going to bed hungry. That’s like the population of Nigeria excluding Lagos.

Aside from the issue of poor commitment from African leaders, natural disasters also contribute a large share to the issue of food crisis in Africa. Between 1983 and 1985, about 400,000 people were killed in Northern Ethiopia as a result of famine, which was largely attributed to drought and climate causes.  We all know that today, climate issues are becoming more challenging globally, and its effect on Agriculture can be overwhelming.

The lack of infrastructure in many African nations has a telling effect on Agriculture, hence contributing to food crisis. Any country with poor infrastructure will always pay for it in more ways than one.  Bad roads, poor storage and weather has been linked to destroying a fourth of food crops grown in Africa, that sounds crazy for a continent heavily plagued by food crisis. It has been duly estimated that Africa throws away $4 billion worth of grain annually due to what experts refer to as massive post-harvest losses. That’s a lot! We should not only see it as a lot of money lost, but a lot of food that won’t make it into the plates of starving children and women in several parts of Africa.

This continent is wasteful! To interpret this properly, it simply implies that about 25-40 percent of produced food in Africa doesn’t get to the people, basically as a result of bad roads, transportation and of course poor storage. Critically, one can conclude that tackling post harvest losses would almost totally solve Africa’s food crisis. To buttress that point, experts have revealed that the $4 billion worth of food that is lost yearly is the exact invoice the whole of Sub-Sahara Africa shells out to import grains every year.

So the hunger problem in Africa isn’t about increasing food production per se, I mean what is the essence of increasing production if about 25-40 per cent of it will perish on the road; if pest will attack a huge bulk of harvested crops because of poor harvest facility.  The bulk of attention towards solving hunger and food crisis should be on focused on developing infrastructure, so harvest can leave the farm and get to the market in good shape. Good roads will always have ripple effects on any economy. It’s sad that in most parts of Africa there is little infrastructure in the area of post-harvest processing and preservation. And that’s the main reason why many will tonight go to bed hungry. For crying out loud, we need to stop throwing all these food away!


Lanre Olagunju is an hydrologist turned freelance journalist.  An alumnus of the American College of Journalism, Lanre advocates on several international platforms for the prosperity and absolute well-being of the African continent. He is @Lanre_Olagunju on Twitter.

Lanre challenges African leaders to take their commitment to agriculture seriously