Monday, August 29, 2011

If most Africans work in the Agricultural sector, how come it has to Import so much Food?

If you follow world news, you must have seen the so many pictures of malnourished children that are playing on all the major news channels every year. This year, they especially mention the drought in Somalia, East Africa, Sudan, Congo. Presently, there is a raging drought in East Africa which is currently dubbed the "worst humanitarian disaster in the world" which is threatening to engulf the whole region. The World Food Programme expects 10 million people to require food assistance.



70% of the population in Africa lives on agriculture and yet, every year, millions of Africans starve to death. This encyclopedia on earth article states that Africa spends between $15,000 - $20,000 million on food imports annually (which figure has probably gone up since 2007). Africa spends this on top of the $2,000 million food aid that it annually receives. This is surely a big sum of money that can be used to promote large scale farming instead of the hand-to-mouth farming practiced by African farmers.

Uganda agricultural problem
In Uganda, farmers always produce a surplus - which the Uganda president Museveni boosts about. The problem is that the farmers sell it only at the local market where the same surplus produce is so abundantly available.

For instance, tomatoes may have a big demand therefore selling very highly that season. The following season every farmer plants tomatoes for sale which creates a huge surplus the following harvesting season, consequently plummeting the prices of tomatoes to near zero that season. This discourages the farmer from growing any more tomatoes. When the prices of tomatoes rise due to shortage the following season, the farmer does not benefit anything since no one has grown any tomatoes to sell.

This sort of pattern keeps playing out in areas all over the country. There are regions prominent for growing mangoes, maize, rice, tomatoes, bananas... etc. No wonder this has created a belief among the youth that agriculture is the least profitable business one can have.

The huge price fluctuations therefore, are partly to blame why African farmers cannot grow enough food to feed the whole continent, and billions of dollars are spent on importing food to one of the richest agricultural continents in the world.

What can a young farmer do?
  • Uganda government has put aside money in the 2011 budget to build huge silos and warehouses to store agricultural produce in proper conditions so that it doesn't not rot or get fungi. A young farmer should also look into setting up a storage facility at home for cash crops like maize and coffee. 
  • The government can easily put in place a price support system for farmers - to guarantee a minimum price for the farmers and wipe out the huge price fluctuations that destroy the market and discourage many farmers. 
  • Join a young farmers group to collectively bargain for a better price for their produce instead of selling it individually on the local markets.
  • Also young farmers should be alert to changing market prices. A very good way is to utilise ICT tools to boost an agricultural business article.
Leave your comments below on what you think of the African food shortage problem.