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Pathways to the transformation of Africa’s agriculture

With the right policies in place, Africa’s agricultural sector can help solve the chronic socio-economic challenges of food insecurity, poverty and unemployment, write Richard Munang and Robert Mgendi



‘The effort to improve the conditions of man is not a task for the few. It is the task of all nations … for plague and pestilence, and plunder and pollution, the hazards of nature and the hunger of children are the foes of every man.’

Nowhere is this ageless quote by America’s iconic president J F Kennedy better analogised than in the urgent imperative for global climate action. The universal adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 underlined the commitment of the global community of nations towards a shared end goal of climate resilient socio-economic growth. Its success will require that countries and regions work together within their respective capacities and national circumstances. Transforming Africa’s agriculture is therefore crucial and doing so now could secure Africa’s rise. However, the manner in which this will be done matters greatly.

If made to reach its full potential, Africa’s agricultural sector will go a long way towards solving the chronic socio-economic challenges of food insecurity, poverty and unemployment, in addition to driving climate resilient socio-economic growth. This is all in line with the high-level environmental and development policy positions adopted globally, namely Agenda 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement. These all seek to integrate environmental sustainability and climate action with economic and social development.

Harnessing the environment and eliminating inefficiencies


An important step towards transforming Africa’s agricultural sector involves the reversing of the degradation of ecosystems and eliminating inefficiencies. Environmental and land degradation as a result of unsustainable land use practices, including in agriculture, cost Africa up to USD68 billion annually and up to 6,6 million tonnes of potential grain harvest. This is enough to meet the annual calorie needs of approximately 31 million people. However, using simple ecosystems-based adaptation (EBA) approaches can restore degraded land and recoup these losses to boost food security and recover finances for investment in other areas that are crucial to enhancing agro-productivity and eliminating inefficiencies.

Using EBA approaches has already proved beneficial to some countries on the continent. Mali has restored over 500 000 hectares using simple farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR). The same technique in Senegal has regenerated indigenous trees on 40 000 hectares of cropland. This ecological technique has increased tree density on cropland from an average of four to 33 trees per hectare and improved soil fertility, crop yields and wildlife. It has also reduced soil erosion. In Ethiopia, it has restored 2 700 hectares of barren mountain terrain. 


Another important step involves the leveraging of Africa’s immense clean energy potential. For example. the continent has the best solar resources in the world. A mere 0,3% of the sunlight that shines on the Sahara could supply nearly all of Europe’s energy needs. Africa can depend on clean energy to actualise sustainable agro-industrialisation and eliminate post-harvest losses, create jobs and enhance earnings along the entire agro-value chain.

Currently, inefficiencies along the post-farm-gate value chain mean Africa loses food worth USD4 billion. This is enough to feed an extra 48 million people each year. In 2010, the post-harvest losses were at a record USD48 billion. When juxtaposed with the USD35 billion worth of food imported the following year, recovering these losses would essentially eliminate the need for imports without increasing production, while injecting an extra USD35 billion for investment in other areas.


Tapping into opportunities presented by the Paris Agreement

EBA-driven agriculture powered by clean energy provides Africa the locus standi to leverage the Paris Agreement. This is because this approach simultaneously fulfils specific objectives of the Paris Agreement, especially Article 7 on adaptation, Article 4 on mitigation and Article 2, the purpose of which is to ensure climate resilient development, including in food systems, as captured under Article 2(1b).

Specific provisions to be leveraged include Articles 9, 10 and 11 in particular. These articles mandate developed countries to support developing countries with both financial and non-financial means of implementation to meet their obligations under the deal.

What are the pillars for transforming Africa’s agriculture? 

Women produce up to 80% of food in Africa and work more hours on average: up to 467 minutes daily, compared to 371 minutes for men in some countries, according to the World Bank.

Women produce up to 80% of food in Africa and work more hours on average: up to 467 minutes daily, compared to 371 minutes for men in some countries, according to the World Bank.

Investing in women

Women produce up to 80% of food in Africa and work more hours on average: up to 467 minutes daily, compared to 371 minutes for men in some countries, according to the World Bank. Yet women remain marginalised. Gender stereotypes and dynamics such as land rights, education, access to technologies, labour, capital, support services and credit are some of the stumbling blocks that women encounter.


The World Bank also estimates that if women worldwide had equal access to productive resources, such as seed, extension services, etc., 100 million to 150 million fewer people would go hungry every day. This goes to show the great potential that women have. The critical question is how this potential can be optimised in Africa. Here are some solutions:

Access to finance – Enhancing access to finance for women has been highlighted by the AU Agenda 2063 as a potent strategy to increasing the productivity of the agricultural sector and stimulating socially inclusive growth. The AU Agenda 2063 advocates for the dedication of 30% of agricultural financing to women and countries should factor this into their budgets.

Access to markets – Affirmative action policies in accessing market opportunities for women will go a long way to empowering women in the agro-sector. For instance, this can take the form of policies that directly target women as the preferred suppliers in government tenders for agribusinesses.

Involving women in policy formulation and implementation – Even though they constitute 80% of the labour force in the agricultural sector on the continent, women are largely excluded from policy making. Their inclusion in decision-making processes will ensure that their concerns are taken up when policies are drafted.

Investing in the youth


Sub-Saharan Africa has the youngest population in the world. Young people aged 15 to 25 represent more than 60% of the continent’s total population. But again, the critical question is how the potential of young people can be harnessed to drive agriculture transformation. Here are some suggestions:

EducationEducation policies need to be reformed to equip young people with knowledge and skills that are centered on solving the continent’s contemporary challenges, while technically benchmarking them against global best practices. Universities and colleges should introduce programmes that directly contribute to solving contemporary developmental challenges and equipping students to take up opportunities in contemporary sectors like renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, etc., to drive the transformation of agriculture.

Incubation centres to enhance the technical and professional skills of the youth – There is a need to equip the youth with technical and professional skills to ensure that they contribute meaningfully towards agricultural transformation. Entrepreneurship opportunities along the agro-value chain are immense and the youth need to be mentored in business and technical skills. Incubation centres that impart such knowledge to young people are the way to go.

The way forward

In Africa, the problem we face is often not a shortage of solutions but rather a lack of inclusive, multi-stakeholder partnerships to bridge gaps towards achieving the implementation of those solutions. The need for inclusive partnerships to harness resources and achieve implementation is underscored both in Agenda 2030 and in the Paris Agreement, which calls for collective action against climate change by both state and non-state actors. The message is clear: We need to work together.