Africa presents a challenge not only to Africans but to all who are concerned with economic and social development. Scholars, planners, journalists, novelists, and travelers have described the problems of Africa in graphic detail. But how are these problems addressed? The level of material well-being on the continent has fallen in the past twenty years. Agricultural production has actually declined in recent years, and Africa, an overwhelmingly agricultural continent, now imports much of its food. Expert opinion differs as to the causes of and the possible cures for the African crisis. Just over a decade ago, two reports emphasized these differences. The Organization of African Unity (now African Union) published the Lagos plan of Action in 1980, a statement by the African heads of government. The World Bank issued its report Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: An Agenda for Action in 1981.The continent is currently faced with the challenge of meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Many of the debates contained in these documents continue.
Edward Royce in Boosting Africa’s Agricultural Trade observes that ‘‘for most African economies, no sector is more important than agriculture. An estimated two-thirds of Africans depend upon agriculture for their livelihood. With agriculture accounting for nearly half of GDP in most African countries, it is critical to the continent\'s development. African agriculture has faced many adversities. Government industrialization efforts that heavily tax farmers, insecure land tenure that depresses investment, collectivist policies that dampen individual initiative, poor and degrading soil in many regions, underdeveloped and decayed infrastructure, and drought, all have worked against African agriculture.
African leaders are starting to speak out. Ugandan President Museveni, on his recent trip to the United States, spoke of ending \'\'rich country tariffs and subsidies that are keeping African agriculture in a state of pre-industrial wretchedness complete with cycles of famine.\'\' African leaders and others are also coming to question development aid. Why give with one hand and take away with the other? Africans are also asking why the U.S. and other nations champion market policies, yet practice something else when it comes to agriculture.
Many of the problems facing the African agriculture sector are well known. Literally thousands of studies have been produced that describe the condition of widespread hunger and its basic cause, the lack of available and affordable food to sustain human life and development. What most of these studies fail to address is a solution; a viable plan to reverse this trend and begin to foster economic growth through agriculture on a scale that is more productive and designed to return a decent living to the small scale farmer. Consider the drought catastrophe and subsequent hunger currently in Niger. What is the root cause? The impervious borders. Aid agencies are purchasing food from Mali to send to Niger. Does it take an outsider all the way from Germany to facilitate communication between African neighbors? If African countries would make their borders porous through elimination of intra-Africa trade barriers, the situation would have taken care of itself. Mali entrepreneurs would have quickly sensed the market in Niger and responded to it and arrested the disaster.
Over 100 low resource farmers alongside major stakeholders recently convened to strategize on using business to fight poverty. The climax of the meeting that was held in Eastern Province, a semi-arid and food insecure region was the formation of a farmers’ network. Whereas people believe that more aid will save Africa, IREN Kenya the convener intends to prove that networking and facilitation of a business friendly environment can turn an aid dependent region into a self sufficient and food exporting region.
African countries have the potential to significantly expand their agricultural production, staving off famine. With land and labor being relatively inexpensive, many African countries could, given the right conditions, produce sufficient agricultural products not only for their domestic markets, but also for export to neighboring and overseas markets.