Op-Ed: Small Farmers to Revitalise Agriculture in Africa

Caption: Ms Annie Kaipa planting seeds – picture supplied

By: Mary-Jean Nleya *

President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, was chosen as the World Food Laureate by the World Food Prize board in June 2017. On October 16, as part of the World Food Prize events, he delivered a boldly-titled lecture “Betting on Africa To Feed The World”.

With an estimated 33 million small-holder farmers, Africa has in recent times been dubbed the “breadbasket of the world”. The 33 million small-holder farmers represent a great business opportunity to be tapped into to expand market share for businesses seeking to service small-holder farmers. But is Africa living up to the “breadbasket” moniker?

In a world that produces enough food to feed everyone, one in nine people goes to bed hungry every day. That is an approximate number of 815 million people. Food security remains a global challenge. This great need means there is a great global food demand.

In Malawi, attempts have been made to improve agriculture development for small-holder farmers. The Agriculture Commodity Exchange for Africa in Malawi has not lived to its full potential and has not yielded positive externalities for small-holder farmers, and specifically, women small-holder farmers, in the country.

Trading volumes are low and the exchange is predominantly focused on staple foods. The supply chain infrastructure for small-holder farmers in Malawi is yet to be developed. COMESA (the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) in 2016 implemented an initiative to regionalize the supply of fertilizer to small-holder farmers through the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa starting in Zambia.

An expected 500,000 metric tonnes of fertilisers were to be supplied to small-holder farmers across the region under the auspices of the same initiative, over a period of 36 months with an expected renewal for up to 10 years.

Obstacles for women farmers

Small-holder farmers work on over 60% of farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and women small-holder farmers make up almost 50% of the labour force in the agriculture sector; but produce almost 30% less than their male counterparts because of obstacles experienced, such as barriers to accessing markets and receiving farming inputs, obstacles to access to financing and others.

Despite the current challenges that women specifically face in the small-holder agriculture sector, their resilience is palpable. “I really enjoy farming – farming is my calling”, said Annie Bongololo Kaipa a 36-year-old Malawian small-holder farmer in the Kanengo Area of Lilongwe.

Speaking fluently in English and adorning a blue necklace and a lace top, Kaipa confidently said, “I completed my secondary education and passed the Malawi School Certificate of Education, I could have ventured in other things – but I chose to farm. I have 4 plots, I bought my fourth plot in 2008 – I farm sugar cane, maize, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and bananas”. When asked about the reason behind her purchasing more plots to farm, she said: “I am motivated because it is through this that I am able to make a living for my children and use the income to take them to school”.

Kaipa learned how to farm from her father

Kaipa started farming at the age of 8 after learning the skill from her father. She said: “My father encouraged all of his children to go to school and after school to go to the farm. At the time, he was working at the Lilongwe Teacher’s Training College and was also a farmer during the weekends”.

She further explained, “My father considered farming as a safety net in case his children did not succeed at anything else. And he was right. It is through this, my farming, that I can feed myself and my children as well as educate my children”.

Kaipa explained her farming activities and challenges, “Fertilizer is expensive and I water my various plots by hand using this watering can – this is a great challenge. I wish I had a treadle pump – it would be very helpful”. She went further to say, “The market for selling the produce can also be a challenge – sometimes I plant potatoes but then it is difficult to sell, because I am competing with the supermarkets. The supermarkets do not buy from people like us. If the supermarkets could buy from us, it would really improve us and our farming businesses”.

Adesina introduced the E-Wallet system in Nigeria

The initiative introduced by the Food Laureate, Adesina while he was Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria, the E-Wallet system improved Nigeria’s food production and became an enabler of fertiliser distribution.

Such an initiative coupled with the COMESA/ACTESA initiative, if rolled out appropriately in Malawi, would be beneficial for improving the farming business of keen small-holder farmers such as Annie Kaipa. The current attempts in harmonizing COMESA seed laws through the COMESA Seed Harmonization Implementation Programme in the region will create a better environment to monitor and certify seed quality.

This will lead to an investment-friendly climate for commercial seeds that are geared for export. In turn, seed quality will be improved, which will benefit small-holder farmers, if the right public policies are put in place.

Partnership between OCP Group and Nigerian government

The Nigerian Presidential Fertiliser Initiative (PFI), a program introduced by the Nigerian government and the OCP Group, the Moroccan state-owned entity which is the global market leader in phosphate and phosphoric acid – derivatives of fertilizer production and a key player in the international market. This partnership between the Nigerian government and OCP Group, through the PFI, is an attempt at affording farmers fertilizers at reasonable prices, from what was the case prior to the initiative.

With an estimated population of 18 million, Malawi’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, with agriculture contributing 30% to the country’s GDP. It is therefore imperative that women small-holder farmers be supported for the welfare of the country itself and the global food system.

In the words of Annie Kaipa: “I am looking for a bigger market to sell to – if supermarkets were incentivized to buy local produce from small-holder farmers like myself, I would be in a position to expand my farming business and would adequately take care of my family.”

Indeed, empowering women can lift communities out of hardship and specifically empowering women small-holder farmers has the potential to feed more hungry mouths and transform the global food system. The development and business community should harness this incredible resource. Indeed Africa, and more so African small-holder farmers have the potential to feed the world.


* Mary-Jean Nleya is the founder and editor of The Global Communiqué . She was recently on a Grassroots Reporting project in Malawi. She is an Emerging Leader alumnus and was invited to attend the Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakech, Morocco – organized by the OCP Policy Center in partnership with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Follow on twitter: @thegloco . 


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