Why are Africans failing to feed themselves?

08 Jul, 2022 - 00:07 0 Views
Why are Africans failing to feed themselves?

eBusiness Weekly

Clifford Shambare

This is a vast subject that has received considerable attention from African and non-African intellectuals alike to date. So, because of the limited space available to us, through this treatise, we can only address a relatively small part of it.

On considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we find food occupying the first position on it. This should not be surprising since without food, there can be no life.

On continuing to look into the history of life as we have known it, we find that since time immemorial, man and animal have suffered from bouts of hunger from time to time. The oldest recorded hunger is in the Book of Genesis 41;53 to 42;7 and 46;1-6.

Then there was the Irish Great Hunger or Great Famine, from 1945 to 1949 in which it is estimated that one million people died and to escape death, another million emigrated to the US.

Overall, this is an event that changed the demographics, the politics and the cultural landscape of that country and that of the US.
Then there was the Great Chinese hunger between 1959 and 1961 during which some 30 million people starved to death.

While potato blight had caused the Irish hunger, several reasons have been advanced for the Chinese case; these have been given as droughts and floods and “bad” policies.

The Chinese ended this hunger by developing local machinery for the industry and abolishing agricultural taxes, providing subsidies for farmers, land reform, lifting the sale and purchase of grains.
Here the Rhodesians adopted the same strategy of developing or modifying farm equipment to suit local conditions.

In the process they ended up with the Mushandi tractor, various types of farm equipment such as ploughs, harrows, discs, boom sprayers and so forth.

Today all these pieces of equipment have either rusted away or are in the sick bed. This particular aspect of the matter speaks to the need for a locally based agricultural equipment manufacturing system.
Currently, Africa leads in this (hunger) scourge. This is a negative condition that noone can be proud of. Within this continent Somalia and Ethiopia currently lead the rest. In all these hunger bouts — if we may call them that — there have been droughts, some short and others prolonged.

According to the Biblical story, on this very continent of Africa, at the time of Egypt’s famine, the government of the day averted it by storing large amounts of food in purpose built granaries.

According to historical and archeological records on the subject, there were two types of granary, some under, and others, above the ground level.

The Government carried out this exercise over a period of seven consecutive years.
Because of its uniqueness, this is a story that one can say a lot about.

To begin with, because of the length of the drought and the amount of grain (supposed to have been) stored to cater for the food needs of such a long period, the story borders on being a myth.
The total capacity of the granaries must have been massive!

According to the said historical records, Joseph under Pharaoh Djoser, managed the whole exercise. This is an event that earned Joseph and the Israelites a 430 year old tenure in Egypt.

Then there is another case that was discovered many years later — that of the Inca Civilisation (Early 15th Century to 1530) which stored wheat seed, among other grain types of the time, that is still viable today. Both these cases speak to well-developed infrastructural systems for storing grain.

Compare this with the current parlous food security situation in most African countries today. As a result, between the two of them; Zambia and Zimbabwe have lost huge amounts of grain over the past two decades or so.

According to the Zambian Bureau for Investigative Journalism September 2012; “(….) Officially, 54 235 metric tonnes of maize is earmarked for destruction countrywide because of rot……..(..) But other experts have suggested that figure could top 100 000 metric tonnes by the end of harvest(…)”.
So as we carry on with our discourse, we need to look closely into this storage aspect of the agriculture industry since it is a critical component of the food production chain.

This is an area where a lot can be lost after spending huge sums of capital and cash, and effort in other sections of that chain.

In this respect, the new black Zimbabwean Government seems to have had considerable foresight since soon after independence, it built more silos in addition to those that were there during the colonial days; these being Aspindale and Lions Den.

By 2018 the country had 12 silos sites located mainly in the grain producing areas built and managed by the State, with a capacity of 500 000 metric tonnes.

In order to have a better appreciation of the criticality of this subject to the continuation of life for mankind, let us look at this food business holistically. Today in the developed world, governments manage this whole business with a relatively small number of farmers and a few big cereal and grain management companies. In those countries farmer numbers make up only 4 percent of the population.
In the developing world this ratio tends to be much higher depending on individual countries.

As an example, after the land reform programme was implemented in Zimbabwe (with a population of 15 million) about 380 000 were resettled on commercial farms in the whole country. This gives us a ratio of farmer to total population of 2,6 percent.

The remainder has been estimated to be made up of about 3 million peasant farmers. This is a category whose proportion of the total population is however, difficult to estimate given the amorphousness and the now high mobility of people from the communal, to the urban, to the resettlement areas.

Moreover, under the current conditions of the said mobility, it is now quite difficult to determine who actually is, which type of farmer, between the commercial and peasant categories.

This situation is further complicated by the former farm worker population that is now embedded in the total farming landscape.

So although considered superficially, this categorisation should not matter much, considering that they are all farmers, when it comes to the national planning level, it may become critical.

This is where the Government has so far, fallen into a state of quandary. This is also an area prone to abuse by those in positions of local political power.
This is one of the main reasons why there is much theft of Government subsidies by the said few local, and sometimes national, level politicians.

But still, when considered from a superficial perspective, one might be tempted to reason that as long as the inputs stay within the country’s borders the malpractice should not negatively impact on the overall agricultural production and productivity of the nation.

However, this could still prove tricky in some circumstances. In such cases, those inputs may end up with people with money but not necessarily with the passion for farming while on the other hand, those with the passion and the ability but without the means end up losing the chance to farm.

So far, history informs us that Zimbabwe’s experience in the food production arena has been rather erratic. During that whole period the country has experienced bouts of hunger from time to time.
Be that as it may, there was a period—specifically that of UDI — during which the food self sufficiency status of the country was rather fuzzy. At that time Government of the day was quite economic with certain types of information, and this status was one.

In the same breath, during this period, external parties seem not to have bothered to probe the negativities associated with that regime despite the (existence of) the logic to do so.
After independence quite a few assumptions were made by the same parties. As a result, the latter availed to the country, aid supposedly, to cater for such needs as food, among the main ones. During that period, aid in the form of farming inputs was also availed to the country.

As could be expected, as soon as the Government started to implement the land reform programme, those same parties cried foul of Government policy on same, in the process, predicting the worst food security status for the country.

So now, what we had was a caucus with a point to prove — that “there was going to be hunger in the country because the Government had seized the land of the white farmers who had made Zimbabwe the food basket of Africa”. The same attitudes seem to have continued to this day.

But given the current challenges, this is an accusation that the latter cannot deny with a straight face. So the critical question to ask in the case of Zimbabwe is this: What did the Zimbabwe Government do, or did not do, to cause the current state of food insecurity to come about?

As in a number of cases in this country today, this is a subject that has divided the nation into two main halves. On the one hand are the former white farmers and their black sympathisers who are now saying, “We told you so”.
On the other, are those who support the land reform programme, the supposed trigger of the current food insecurity challenges that are now dogging the country, a good proportion of whom seem to be dumbfounded, seeming (to be) unable to identify the source of their challenges in this case.

At this juncture, let me express my views regarding this matter. And since this is a challenge which most African countries face today let me do so within the African context using Zimbabwe as an example.
The first thing to appreciate here is the fact that African farming systems have over the years, been divided into two main categories; the peasant and the commercial farmer categories. This categorisation has come about both by design and (by) default.

In the West, specifically Great Britain, they first did away with the peasant farmer category using a number of strategies — if we can call them that.

First of all, they capitalised land by surveying it and drawing up title (deeds) to it. Then they sold or awarded (it) to individuals who either had the money or had earned other forms of entitlement to it, such as having served the system in times of war, and so forth.

These forms of entitlement were later extended to such countries as their colonies overseas including South Africa, Rhodesia and Kenya on the African continent.

Then they built structures to support this strategy. These were financial and other forms of capital the system made available to the farmer who, in the process, became commercialised in mind and deed.
Currently, at the individual farmer level, on the African continent, the commercial farmer category is predominant in South Africa Zimbabwe. But it is also present, to varying degrees, in the other African countries where it is run by those with adequate funds for this strategy, most of them, multinational corporations.

It is a category that was designed along OECD lines and so, naturally, it shares all the positive attributes with the latter.

It is well funded through adequate capital in machinery and equipment as well as working capital. Furthermore, it is up to date technologically. And (their) governments are directly involved. Logically, given such attributes, success is virtually guaranteed.

Implied in the above elucidation is the fact that, in order to be productive, the farming industry needs substantial amounts of funding. But sadly, up to this day most, if not all, African governments still do not seem to appreciate this fact.

But this is the part that determines success or failure of this industry in any situation, either at the farm or national level.

For example, work done in South Africa has demonstrated that, while it is possible to achieve yields of up to 2 metric tons of maize per hectare under a peasant system of farming, from 3 tons per hectare upwards, a commercial approach is needed.

This means machinery, money for purchasing inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals, as well as expertise, have to be made available in adequate amounts.

Shambare is an agriculturist cum economist and is reachable on 0774960937.

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