African experts champion mechanization to boost food production

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By Verenardo Meeme , Rootooba, 7 August  2020


Agri-business is gaining increased traction in developing Africa. However, experts advise that investment in mechanization, improved seed, and bridging gender inequalities are key for the sector to accelerate its role in developing the continent.

The agricultural sector is dominated by smallholder farmers who contribute about 80 percent of the sector’s production activities. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, the majority of these farmers rely on rain fed agriculture and utilize minimal mechanization. 

Their call, made in a webinar organized by Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) themed, ‘‘promoting agricultural technologies and innovations for agri-business resilience in Africa in the wake of COVID-19,’’ comes as governments focus on policies that will help cushion agri-businesses against the adverse effects of the pandemic on markets and production.  

Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, the Director of Product Development and Commercialization at the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), notes that agribusiness in Africa faces challenges such as low shelf-life of agricultural products, limited access to extension support services, inadequate financing and insurance, poor infrastructure and poor processing.

In addition, he says agribusiness is vulnerable to various shocks such as Covid-19, climate change and the economic slowdown that affect the producers. 

He adds that developing countries are more likely to rely on agriculture as a significant contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than in developed countries.

“Farming mechanization, deployment of resilient seeds and inputs, and enduring partnerships are some of the approaches that will accelerate agribusiness development in Africa,” says Dr. Okogbenin.

He adds that agricultural mechanization is a catalysis to massive production. It reduces the cost of labour, facilitates competitive pricing, promotes efficient use of inputs and improves the supply chain. African governments, therefore, needed to step in and provide subsidized machinery and implements.  

To further add to mechanization efforts, Okogbenin notes that digitalized extension services are an emerging opportunity in agriculture that will contribute to sharing information such as good agricultural practices, market information and giving feedback to farmers. 

Stephen Muchiri, the Chief Executive Officer at the East African Farmers Federation, agrees with Okogbenin that digitization of agriculture has the potential to slow down bureaucracies in accessing markets and inputs. 

Further, Professor Ruth Oniang’o, founder of Rural Outreach Africa, reiterated that there is wealth in the soil if the right resources are deployed even in simple farming techniques like home gardening. She noted that the continent did not need imports as food grown at home held nutritional needs.

“As Covid-19 continues to disrupt farming activities, children at home are eating more and this is a challenge to some parents. If we encourage kitchen gardens farming, families will have diverse and more food at their table,” said Prof. Ruth.

In addition to mechanization, Prof. Oniang’o urged governments to invest in smallholder farmers to produce traditional foods suitable for various ecological zones. 

“We can grow better food even at the household level. We should go back to those traditional foods. What is the relevance of university knowledge if the knowledge cannot help us produce more? We need to relook at the curriculum and see how it can help more,” she concluded. 

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