Africa’s Quest for a Green Revolt

EARLY in the morning, Mary Kanyaire, 33, collects water and firewood, and then prepares a meal for her two school-going children before she heads out to the fields, approximately 3 kilometers away from her homestead.

Alone, under the hot sun, she weeds groundnuts in a sandy field with a hoe. Although she knows she will not get a good yield, she strives on, buckets of sweat pouring down her face.

For Kanyaire and millions like her, subsistence farming is the only source of survival and is practiced with absolutely no support from the government.

In recent years, climate change, which has resulted in an inconsistent rainfall pattern, has dealt a heavy blow to the prospects of subsistence farming.

Yet in Zimbabwe, as in many parts of Africa, the government offers little or no support to subsistence farmers, leaving them to the vagaries of the elements and economic and political shake-ups.

Agriculture in Africa is primarily a family activity, and the majority of farmers are smallholders who own between 0.5 and 2.0 hectares of land, as determined by socio-cultural factors.

Women provide about half of the labor force and produce most of the food crops consumed by the family.

Many of the men leave for urban areas in search of better opportunities, and when they make it in the city, they invest little in their rural areas.

In order to make agriculture work in the fight against poverty, African governments and donors must reverse years of policy neglect and remedy their underinvestment and misinvestment in agriculture.

According to the World Bank’s 2008 World Development Report titled “Agriculture for Development,” the “agriculture sector has been neglected by both governments and the donor community, including the World Bank.”

Despite rapid technological progress, in the 21st century, agriculture continues to be a fundamental instrument for sustainable development and poverty reduction, states the report.

“Three of every four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas — 2.1 billion living on less than $2 a day and 880 million on less than $1 a day — and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” says the report.

Although agriculture alone cannot resolve the problem of poverty, “it has proven to be uniquely powerful for that task.”

“Agriculture contributes to development as an economic activity, as a livelihood and as a provider of environmental services, making the sector a unique instrument for development,” says the report. “Agriculture can be a source of growth for the national economy, a provider of investment opportunities for the private sector and a prime driver of agriculture-related industries and the rural nonfarm economy.”

The report emphasizes that the time has come time to place agriculture afresh at the center of the development agenda because “agriculture and its associated industries are essential to growth and to reducing mass poverty and food insecurity.”

However, in sub-Saharan Africa, a combination of technical, economic, social and political challenges have to be overcome to make agriculture key in reducing extreme poverty and hunger.

“Using agriculture as the basis for economic growth in the agriculture-based countries requires a productivity revolution in smallholder farming,” states the report.

“To influence Africa’s green revolution, a key priority is to increase the assets of poor households, make smallholders — and agriculture in general — more productive, and create opportunities in the rural nonfarm economy that the rural poor can seize,” adds the report.

Political willingness will be critical to making agriculture a source of empowerment for the often-marginalized rural smallholder farmers.

Also, Africa needs to take advantage of the available new technologies to boost its agricultural productivity. Although Africa can learn from the agricultural systems of other continents in the world, it is clear that a new paradigm will have to emerge in the continent — a new paradigm that takes into account the challenges such as climate change, as well as the new opportunities presented by technology.

African governments in partnership with donors need to invest heavily in the infrastructure of rural areas, which will include building new roads, access to electricity to improve access to markets among other issues. Without a green revolution, Africa will remain forever locked up in poverty.

And for Africa’s new generation, such as Kanyaire’s children, that green revolution is something that should be fought for to expand opportunities.

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