Climate change, inadequate public investment and inadequate support to smallholder farmers are the triple challenges facing Africa’s food production according to Dr. Agnes Kalibata, President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Further, rapid population growth and urbanization present the most daunting challenge to meeting the goal of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty in Sub Saharan Africa.
“Global food demand in 2050 is projected to increase by at least 60 percent above 2006 levels, driven by population and income growth, as well as rapid urbanization. In the coming decades, population increases will be concentrated in regions with the highest prevalence of undernourishment and high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change,” according to a new report from the United Nations.
The image of Kenya children in the arid and semi-arid regions starving and dying from hunger and malnutrition is certainly emotive and swiftly moves the nation and international community to compassionate action.
Currently, close to 1.3 million Kenyans are affected by the drought situation in the country according to the Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri.
Kilifi is the worst-hit county among the 23 counties affected by the drought. Other affected counties include Tana River, Kwale, West Pokot, Tharaka-Nithi, and all the counties in North Eastern region.
The Famine Early Warning System Network, (FEWSN) report states that deterioration of food security is expected to continue even after the onset of the short rains.
“In northeastern pastoral areas, especially parts of Garissa and Tana River, rangeland conditions and livestock productivity are atypically poor, even for the dry season, since these areas experienced substantial rainfall deficits of 25 to 50 percent of normal during the last long rains.
As a result, poor households with substantial pasture, browse, and water deficits and depleted incomes inhibiting effective market access are experiencing food gaps and moved to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity in September. These households are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity through at least January 2017.”
Given the excruciating spectacle of death and hunger, it is easy to argue that low input, low productivity rain-fed small farm agricultural production systems are the culprit and must be replaced with production systems that utilize fertilizers, high yielding hybrid seeds, pesticides and irrigation.
“The challenge in Kenya and Africa is its diversity – different crops grow in different environments, from the highlands to the lowlands,” says Joe Devries, Chief, Agricultural Transformation, AGRA.
“70 million farmers are in these zones and everyone needs high yielding seeds to allow them to produce adequate levels and surplus that is drought tolerant, adaptable to climate change and has early maturity,” he adds.
“The base of everything else is a good seed. The challenge is the disconnect between researchers and getting the seeds out to the farmers because it is the heart of agriculture transformation,” says Kalibata.
According to the experts, only an average of about 20 percent of farmers in Africa use seeds of improved varieties. The numbers are lower among smallholder farmers who account for 70 percent of the continent’s population.
Kenya has a more advanced seed sector in the region with about 60 percent of farmers using improved seeds according to Eng. J.A Nkanya, Chief Engineer Agricultural Engineering Service.
“The government in partnership with our development partners has funded the research and development of locally adapted, high yielding varieties and is willing to share these key technologies with private seed companies to ensure that we meet the seed demand in the country and indeed the continent.”
The stakeholders were speaking at the sidelines of the ‘10k Seed Club’ bringing together seed companies in Africa organised by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in Nairobi to review the progress and learn from each other on the best approaches towards the intended mark in Nairobi.
Over the years, these companies have produced and sold an estimated 475,805 MT of improved seeds.on average, the use of improved seeds and the right farming practices have enabled farmers to more than double their yields, leading to the production of an additional 4 million MT of cereals, pulses, soybeans, and groundnuts in 2015 alone representing about 2.2 billion US dollars in additional income for the farmers.
According to Kalibata, Africa was witnessing an agricultural transformation with countries that made the biggest investments in smallholder agriculture rewarded with sizeable jumps in both farm productivity and overall economic performance.
“Seeds of improved varieties are important in raising yields and ensuring food security, proper nutrition, and prosperity for not only smallholder farmers but the general population,” she said.
“Local private seed companies are a critical player in delivering a truly African green revolution. These companies should diversify the seeds they produce from maize to include other crops that can play a role in food security and climate change adaptation like sorghum, millet, and legumes such as cowpeas, pigeon peas, and green grams. The companies are also best placed to innovatively produce seeds and planting materials for crops that are vegetatively propagated like sweet potatoes and cassava,” added Kalibata.
Dr. Eliud Kiplimo Kireger, Director General Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) however, says coming up with quality seeds that suit the market requirements and the environmental challenges is ‘an expensive process’.
“We do not deliver because of inadequate funding from the government. Research cannot stop, the demands keep emerging,” he says.
On the other hand, Kalibata says Africa still has a huge import bill that can be overcome if we doubled the production of maize, but we are still ‘talking about food security’.
“The Current import bill is at 35 billion dollars and it is estimated to be at 110 billion dollars by 2025.”
Subsequently, the 2014 Africa Progress Report notes that “African countries spent US$35 billion on food imports (excluding fish) in 2011. The share accounted for by intra-African trade: less than 5 percent. If Africa’s farmers increased their productivity and substituted these imports with their own produce, this would provide a powerful impetus to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and supporting a more inclusive pattern of growth.”
The newly released UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s annual State of Food and Agriculture report, ‘The State of Food and Agriculture – Climate change agriculture and food security’, focusing on social protection and anti-poverty measures, innovation in family farming and designing food systems for better nutrition cites that climate change has already begun to affect the world’s food production, and unless significant action is taken, it could put millions of more people at risk of hunger and poverty in the next few decades.
“Hunger, poverty and climate change need to be tackled together,” said Food and Agriculture Organization director-general José Graziano da Silva, in a foreword to the new report. “This is, not least, a moral imperative as those who are now suffering most have contributed least to the changing climate.”
There is a need to bring the knowledge and perspectives of farmers together with decision-makers at other levels. It is crucial that research in agriculture, food security and climate change continues to improve and deliver, to allow more confident decision-making and allocation of limited resources towards uncertain climatic futures this is according to a Policy Brief from the International Research Institute (IRI) Climate and Society No.1.
Going forward, José Graziano da Silva in the report says, “The time to invest in agriculture and rural development is now. The challenge is garnering diverse financing sources, aligning their objectives to the extent possible, and creating the right policy and institutional environments to bring about the transformational change needed to eradicate poverty, adapt to climate change and contribute to limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”