Corn Commentary

Growing African Agriculture

As Africa’s economy is growing and the population is urbanizing, more people are getting removed from food production – but some are calling on Africa to “think agriculture” for jobs.

af-ag“Agriculture should be Africa’s number one priority, especially when it comes to employment,” said Philippe Egger, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Bureau of Programming and Management, in a recent commentary on the ILO website.

The reality is that agriculture in Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike. This carries a high cost: Per capita food production has barely grown over the last 50 years, at a pace of 0.06 per cent a year. With the population rising at 2.6 per cent a year, food imports have increased at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent since 1980, with cereals accounting for the largest share. Africa receives close to half of the world’s total cereal food aid.

Yields are comparatively low at an average of 1.3 tons per hectare of harvested land, less than half the world average. Yields have increased at an annual rate of just over 1 per cent, while the world average grew 2 per cent.

Egger suggests that Africa needs to focus on “raising food output per unit of land among the large majority of small-holders” by using an “agriculture first” strategy that includes “wider use of fertilizer and sound water management techniques; support to rural infrastructure and market access; and agricultural research.” But there is no mention of increasing use of biotech crops.

While there is no official ban on growing GMO crops in most of Africa, Europe’s restriction on imports of biotech crops has a significant impact on what farmers in Africa will plant.

A recent story in Europe’s Farmers Weekly, written by a farmer from the UK, claims that the European Union’s GM policy is “starving Africa.”

The EU is a market for much African produce and these restrictions are preventing many African farmers from growing GM crops. GM crops that could improve yields dramatically, or are more drought tolerant, or resistant to local pests, are being overlooked.

Bluntly, children in Africa are starving because their farmers are frightened to grow GM crops for fear that they will be unable to sell their produce.

That is blunt – probably a bit exaggerated as well – but the point is that both African food production and employment could benefit from growing more biotech crops. Bluntly, biotech crops increase yields which grows the agricultural economy – and helps feed starving children.