Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Who will save Africa’s rural farmers when investment and climate change roll in?

Agriculture represents 15 percent of the continent’s total GDP (PPP), and the sheer size of the smallholder sector — more than one-third of the population in most African countries — makes strengthening its resilience critical, not only for the food producers themselves, but also for general economic stability and prosperity.

Building new partnerships

The challenge for African governments and the private sector is to boost the resilience of rural populations. The private sector can play critical roles in supporting risk-reduction and reducing vulnerability of smallholders in ways that improve human and environmental sustainability.

An approach that engages sub-Saharan Africa’s 33 million small farms is needed. These small farms, for the most part, have fewer than five acres of good arable land and use mainly family labor. Building new kinds of partnerships is critical for developing robust, stable economies and for assuming appropriate levels of corporate responsibility.

Including the smallholders

While it needs to be recognized that Africa is a net importer of food — total food imports are set to grow from $35 billion in 2015 to over $110 billion by 2025 — it is important to find ways to address food shortages and development constraints without new levels of environmental stress.

Most workers in the agricultural sector are self-employed or own-account workers and constitute a significant part of the national and local private sectors. Although women make up a little more than half the agricultural workforce, they are more likely to work in agriculture (PDF) than in other sectors. Smallholder agriculture and pastoralism accounts for the livelihoods of two-thirds of economically active African women.

Aligning large-scale investments with smallholders

Large-scale agricultural investments tend to focus on mass production of export-orientated and niche crops. Consequently, both private and public research and development have concentrated on improving crop resistance to climate variability of only a very limited set of crops, coupled with a focus on fertilizers and irrigation.

These interventions include global tripartite partnerships constituted by governments, donors and agribusiness, such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, formed in 2006, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa (of the G-8), and the U.S. initiative, Feed the Future.

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