At the beginning of the month, renowned Zimbabwean entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa, shared a photograph through his Facebook page of a middle-aged African woman bearing a hoe on her shoulder, and staring into the camera as two other women, one with a child on her back, planted seeds in the background.
In the accompanying caption, Masiyiwa went on to lament that it was unfortunate for such an image to remain the known representation of the average African farmer.
Dr. Masiyiwa went on to insist that there was an immediate need for a change in attitude towards farming, starting with encouraging more youth to enter the industry, and the adoption of modern farming technologies.
“Africa’s innovators should be embarrassed. We should not continue to have a hoe as the symbol of our farming efforts,” said Masiyiwa at the Africa Green Revolution Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.
“There are new technologies emerging all around us, from financial innovations to biotechnology, and these will play a role in Africa’s growth if adopted now,” he added.
Africa holds about 600 million hectares of arable land, but has an annual net import of food bill worth $35 billion, which is estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025.
The NEPAD draft strategy states that five million people die of hunger in Africa every year while the African Development Bank report that more than 280 million people in the continent are malnourished.
This grim state of affairs is, by a great part, associated with the failure to do away with obsolete technology and farming strategies. For instance, almost 95 percent of the food production in sub-Saharan Africa is rain fed as only about five percent of Africa’s arable land is irrigated, compared to India’s 40 percent.
This, according to Onyeka Akumah, the founder of Nigerian farming advisory start-up Farmcrowdy, adversely affects the output of most farms in the continent.
Wendy Singer, the Executive Director of Israeli company Start-Up Nation Central, advises that Africa’s innovators need to act with speed and either adopt already-created technologies or develop local solutions to own problems.
“Israel has one of the highest crop to water ratio. And it is not that we are a country with rich water resources; it is because we have a history of technology and innovation to deal with the problems that we regularly encounter, and such is the approach that Africa should take to grow its farming sector,” said Singer.
The lack of interest for farming by youth has also been cited as a major deterrent to the development of African agriculture. This is not withstanding the fact that agriculture employs 65 percent of the workforce and contributes 32 percent of the continent’s GDP, according to the World Bank.
“We need to come up with ways of involving the youth. We live in a continent where the average age is 19 but the average age of the farmer is 60. We need tools and innovations that will attract the youth if a change is to be achieved,” said Masiyiwa.
Masiyiwa, Singer and Akumah, all expressed optimism that all stakeholders will play their part in ensuring that a positive change is achieved across all farming endeavours.