Smallholder Farmers Must be Supported

Published on 19th June 2012

“My son, I have for decades survived on this 2.5 acre piece of land and practiced mixed farming, cultivating crops such as maize, millet, sweet potatoes, beans and coffee, as well as rearing some goats, chicken and sheep. These brought me some income and ensured food security in my home. For the last eight years, however, the produce from this land has reduced drastically to the extent that there is no longer enough food in my home.”

Those were the words of Paul Byaruhanga, a small holder peasant farmer, in karangura Sub County, Kabarole district, in western Uganda. Millions of other small holder farmers all over Africa are facing the same scenario.

Agriculture is the backbone of African economies and 80 per cent of the continent’s population is employed in the agriculture sector from where they derive their livelihood. The sector has for decades been and is still contributing about 40 per cent, to the continent’s GDP, with small holder farmers contributing over 70 per cent to this regional GDP.

Small holder farmers are the kingpins of the agricultural sector in Africa. If the sector has to birth sustainable economic transformation in the continent, African governments and organizations working in agricultural sector, must start developing strategies geared towards making smallholder farming more productive and profitable. As we speak today, this is not being done.

Small holder farmers in Africa have not been adequately helped to adopt modern agricultural practices. My farming training trips to Kenya’s Western Province and Zambia, coupled with farming experience reveals that small holder farmers in Africa, have totally been left behind in adoption of new agricultural technologies. They still use traditional tools such as hand hoes and pangas which cannot enable them till their land on a bigger scale. They also lack access to improved seeds hence a drastic reduction in agricultural yields. Millions of small holder farmers are finding it difficult to feed their families. Many of their children suffer from malnutrition caused diseases, as they cannot afford to feed them on a balanced diet.

African governments and agriculture related-organizations are not doing enough to help small scale farmers to access fertilizer which is key to improving soil fertility. Many of them don’t even know how to make improved organic manure.

African countries ought to help their small scale farmers access improved seeds and fertilizers; training on sustainable and effective utilization of land. Africa is currently experiencing massive degradation of natural resources emanating from poor farming practices, which millions of small holder farmers are still engaged in, which are causing massive erosion and silting all over the continent and if nothing is done to reverse this trend, attaining food security and curbing poverty in millions of homes in Africa, will remain a wild dream.

Many small scale farmers lack storage and drying facilities. They consequently incur post-harvest losses and sell their produce cheaply to middlemen. This traps farmers further into the poverty cycle. Irrigation use even in areas close to water sources like rivers, wells and lakes is also largely absent and one keeps on wondering what African governments are planning to do about this situation.

What then needs to be practically done?

African leaders should ensure that well developed cooperative unions are established and fully stocked with agricultural inputs and implements like improved seeds, improved fertilizers, tractors as well as irrigation technologies especially in dry areas. This should be accompanied with establishment, of village buffer stocks, storage and drying facilities. When this is done, it will spur production, value addition and re-organization of the rural informal markets.

The Kenya government is reaping big from implementing some of some of these strategies. Cooperatives are contributing 45 per cent to the country’s GDP. 80 per cent of cotton production and 76 per cent of Kenya’s dairy production is made possible because of cooperatives.

African countries should take a leading role in establishing more rural farming village demonstration farms and domesticated animal breeding centers, and make them accessible for small holder farmers to always come in and be trained in modern methods of farming. Capacity building initiatives should be carried out in the farmers’ locale as opposed to five star hotels and town halls where ‘technocrats’ who in most cases are not themselves farmers, converge to eat and drink while pretending to discuss the plight of farmers.

Africa’s agricultural products including cash and food crops, livestock, fishing and forestry products’ demand is skyrocketing globally. Farmers should therefore be equipped with agribusiness skills. Agribusiness if utilized well can transform African economies.

In sum, Africa is currently utilizing only one-fourth of its arable land, which is making it, to contribute only 10 per cent to global food production, yet the continent can feed half of the world’s population. Measures should therefore be developed, to ensure that these enormous resources are fully utilized, which if done, will not only birth prosperity in small holder farmers households, but will also make the continent self-sufficient in food production and also attract more foreign direct investments in the livestock and cash crop subsector.

By Moses Hategeka

The author is a Ugandan based independent governance researcher, public affairs analyst and writer.

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