As important as food is to the family, nation and the African continent, how much commitment is there to its availability in sufficient quantities, and acceptable quality as well as at affordable prices? The recent experiences in Somalia and South Sudan where negative impacts of insufficient or total absence of food are manifest, speak loudly to the dire straits in which many African states are. That is why individuals and groups should make concerted and diligent efforts to ensure there is enough food on the table. A country unable to produce enough food to feed its population risks insecurity in various dimensions, especially as food is a major weapon of war and even re-colonisation. African nation states must strive for food security.
To avoid lack of food, countries that do not produce enough for their people, resort to food importation to fill gaps. When the gaps become huge as to substantially drain national resources that would have been used for other needs, great concerns are bound to be expressed. This is particularly germane when the importing country is believed to have what it takes to produce enough food internally without the embarrassment of importation.
Such it was that some African leaders who recently gathered to celebrate with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Oyo State, at its 50th anniversary reportedly expressed concerns at the continent’s annual importation of food worth USD35 billion. What ordinarily should have been an occasion for the clinking of glasses for the recorded achievements of IITA became a platform for some of the leaders present to bemoan Africa’s high level of food importation.
Aware that merely bemoaning the situation cannot solve the problem, they reportedly highlighted some of the measures to reverse it. The measures include increased investment in all aspects of agriculture by African countries, encouragement of the youth to be involved in agribusiness, partnering with institutions such as IITA in order to effectively deal with any challenges facing agriculture and agricultural production, increasing the quantity and quality of agricultural output, sustaining production of agricultural products, bridging the link between research and development, developing strategies for the engagement and support of women farmers especially in the areas of access to finance and land as well as other resource inputs.
The leaders also emphasized the accruable benefits if the continent internally produces enough food for its 450 million people to include, prevention or overcoming food insecurity, creation of employment and wealth as well as assurance of sustainable agriculture production. In addition to these, it is essential to add improvement in human skills development, expansion of industrial production and markets, enhanced gross domestic products, prevention of socio-economic challenges that arise from food scarcity, conservation of foreign exchange, cheaper food prices and improvement in living standards of Africans.
Unfortunately, a few former heads of governments (General Yakubu Gowon and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria) and Matata Ponyo Mapon (former Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo), who proposed what could be done to check spending huge sums of money on importation of food into the continent, are no longer in office to implement or cause implementation of their propositions. Worst still, with the exception of the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh who represented the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo Nigeria’s state governments that parrot agriculture as their wining tool were absent at the occasion to share or draw experiences.
Nevertheless, hope for the future of investment in African agriculture was raised at the occasion by the incumbent President of African Development Bank (ADB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina who committed that, within the next ten (10) years, ADB would invest USD24 billion in agriculture business across Africa. If properly invested and managed, that sum should bring some improvement to the continent’s agric value chain which in turn, will aid reduction in food imports.
Governments and leaders in Africa (past and present) should know that if there is one thing the continent should not be found lacking in, it is food. It is shameful that, with the large arable fertile land, expansive body of waters and other enviable endowments, Africa cannot feed itself. That such a humongous amount of foreign exchange is being expended importing food is a serious minus for the leadership of the component countries in Africa.
Now, beyond food, if manufacturing and industrialisation could be made realities within the continent, the case for agriculture-the feeder of industries with raw materials, must be promoted as a necessity. Africa has come of age and its agricultural practices should be driven by research, mechanisation and modern technology to steer it away from remaining rudimentary.
Africa being a net-exporter of agricultural products should be the worthy vision of African governments and leaders. Of course, diligent planning, development of appropriate strategies, deployment of sufficient resources and unflinching commitment by the governments and the citizenry will be the game-changers for the realisation of multiple objectives of food security, industrialisation and foreign exchange earnings. Thus, African leaders should henceforth stop using agriculture as a mere propaganda tool. They should put their hands on the plough and never look back.