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Why you should invest in Aquaculture in West Africa

artisanal floating aquaculture cages located in Kolda region, on the Casamance river, southern Senegal, West Africa

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Why You Should Invest in Aquaculture in West Africa 

By: Shira Petrack

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 

Aquaculture in West Africa can increase food production, preserve the marine ecosystem, and restore wildlife populations. 

What is Aquaculture?

Think of aquaculture as agriculture is for water-based organisms: “Agri” comes from the Latin word “ager,” which means field, and “aqua” is the Latin word for water. More technically, aquaculture refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish and other organisms in three types of water environments – freshwater, brackish water, and saltwater. Aquaculture can involve big cages in existing bodies of fresh or saltwater and land-based tanks that rely on water filtration and recirculation systems. 

Sustainable aquaculture practices can increase the global supply of fish, shellfish, seaweeds, algae, sea vegetables, and fish eggs while preserving marine diversity. 

Why invest in Aquaculture? 

The expanding global population brings with it a growing appetite for animal protein, which could strain our planet’s already weakened ecosystems. According to the FAO, global per capita fish consumption increased 3.1% every year from 1961 to 2017, almost doubling the population growth rate of 1.6%. Since 2013, fish production from aquaculture has outpaced capture fish production – some experts believe that by 2030, almost ⅔ of all seafood produced for human consumption will come from aquaculture. Investing in aquaculture is the only way to obtain more seafood for human consumption without contributing to overfishing or ecological destruction. 

In many ways, farming fish is much more environmentally friendly than raising land animals such as cows, chickens, or pigs. Fish is the most efficient animal protein to produce in terms of feed to pound ratio: – it takes only around one pound of feed to produce one pound of fish. In contrast, it takes almost two pounds of feed to make one pound of chicken, nearly three pounds of feed for one pound of pork, and close to seven pounds of feed for one pound of beef. Meeting the increased demand for animal protein through fish rather than land animals can free up hundreds of millions of hectares of grazing land globally. 

And while some aquaculture methods create pollution and weaken wild fish stocks, aquaculture done right can help replenish our lakes and oceans. Since the 70s, unsustainable fishing practices have lead to the decline of global fish stocks. Sustainable aquaculture farms can also cultivate complementary species of marine animals and plants to increase profits while maintaining viable self-cleaning ecosystems.

Why West Africa? 

Currently, Fisheries in the West African Marine Ecoregion (WAMER) generate around $400 million every year. A large portion of this income goes to foreign corporations who engage in destructive and unsustainable fishing practices that drain the region’s natural fish populations. Most fish populations in West Africa are already fully or overexploited, putting coastal communities’ livelihoods and food security at risk and inhibiting sustainable and scalable economic growth. The recent expansion of fishmeal and fish oil factories in the area is putting even more pressure on the already depleted waters. 

Aquaculture was first introduced in Africa in the 1950s, but has yet to produce meaningful food quantities on the continent. Currently, most of the fish harvested by European or Asian commercial operations get shipped abroad: In 2018, aquaculture accounted for less than 10% of the region’s seafood consumption. The lack of trained aquaculture fish farmers, stunted fish seed, poor aquatic health management, and high post-harvest losses due to underdeveloped cold-chain infrastructure have kept the sector from achieving its potential.  

At the same time, food insecurity remains a daily reality for many West Africans. Investments in sustainable aquaculture in West Africa could allow local communities to establish economically and ecologically viable fisheries that produce food and income. With the right technologies and know-how, West African fish farmers can produce enough seafood to feed their communities and export the surplus abroad. 

Small Scale Aquaculture in West Africa Can be Profitable

Aquaculture does not need to be conducted on a massive scale to be profitable. Perhaps surprisingly, research shows that small reservoirs in West Africa tend to be more productive than larger ones. Investing in building locally owned and/or managed aquaculture production operations 

Companies such as SkyFox Ltd have had success empowering locals to become aquaculture fish farmers. SkyFox helps fish farmers build artificial ponds that serve as the heart of an integrated aquaculture and crop-production solution. Once the fish farms are up and running, SkyFox connects the fish farmers with fish distributors to sell their products quickly and reduce post-harvest losses. 

Israeli company Palgey Maim has worked in Nigeria to build a fish production operation on an island in the middle of a lake. The fish farm draws the water from the surrounding lake, uses it to feel the fish pond, and treats it before pumping it back into the lake.  

How to Invest in Aquaculture in West Africa 

Empower Africa Agriculture Consulting Services can help you bring your aquaculture expertise to West African farmers and communities. Whether you specialize in monocultures, polycultures, onshore operations, open net systems, or aquaculture support activities such as fish distribution and processing, you can help develop sustainable aquaculture in West Africa. 

Contact us to for help in finding the right partners and optimizing your business model to increase income, profits, and food security in West Africa. 

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Invest in Native African Crops

sorghum

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Invest in Small-Holder Farmers in Africa

farmers loading potatoes in Zambia

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Invest in Small-Holder Farmers in Africa

By: Shira Petrack

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The international business community can invest in small-holder farmers to develop agriculture on the continent, increase profits for both sides, and move Africa towards food sovereignty and economic prosperity. 

Today, most Africans participating in the labor market work on small farms of two hectares or lessproducing foodstuff for subsistence and local farming. Despite the continent’s agricultural potential, however, productivity is lowmany farmers are struggling, and food insecurity is rising.The farms’ small size and low productivity keep the profit margins extremely low, limiting farmers from acquiring mechanized tools or quality inputs that could increase their yield. Small-holder farmers also often lack adequate storage solutions for their crops, which forces them to sell their harvest to the nearest available trader at a low price.

Why Invest in Small-Holder Farmers

Contract farming is an “institutional arrangement under which an agribusiness firm contracts the production of agricultural commodities out to farmers.” These firms often provide inputs, equipment, and technical advice during the crop’s lifecycle to ensure they receive the best quality products, improving the farmers’ overall yield. Contract farming also saves the farmer the trouble of storing, processing, or transporting the crops to market, and guarantees the farm a minimum income for the harvest in the face of fluctuating commodity prices. 

The business consultancy Bain & Company has found that buyers that “invest in enhancing small-holder farmer livelihoods and disrupt traditional, transaction-oriented sales channels, such as traders,” have the potential to transform food systems in Africa. Buyers who treat small-holder farmers as partners rather than as commodity suppliers can raise income for small-holder farmers while benefiting from better quality and higher yielding harvests. 

Contract Farming Across the Continent 

For contract farming to truly benefit both the farmers and the buyers, the parties should outline the terms and conditions of their agreement clearly, including the price paid to the farmer, the quantity and quality of produce demanded by the buyer, and the date the farmer will deliver to the buyer. When done right, contract farming can form the basis for mutually beneficial relationships between small-holder farmers and established agribusinesses.

Various studies in Senegal, Uganda, Madagascar, and South Africa have found that contract farmers’ income is higher than their non-contract counterparts. In Ghana, contract farming has been linked to higher crop yields and better gross margins for participating farmers. A similar study in Benin found that contract farming contributes to higher rice output and increased income for small-holder farmers. In Kenya, farmers struggling with climate change have turned to contract farming through the East Africa Potato Consortium to obtain more resilient seeds and benefit from a guaranteed buyer for their crop at a guaranteed price. 

The Dangote Group, one of Africa’s largest conglomerates, has recently embarked on a multi-billion rice processing plant in Nigeria’s Jigawa State to produce 16% of Nigeria’s rice by 2023. The company has contracted with tens of thousands of farmers in Jigawa State, and it plans on expanding its out-grower scheme to fourteen states across Nigeria. The program provides farmers with inputs, equipment, technical assistance, extension services, and land preparation services to empower the growers to get the most out of their land, create job opportunities in rural areas, and increase take-home income for small-holder farmers. 

Private Sector Investment Will Establish Food Sovereignty 

The Dangote project is notable because its contract farming scheme is focused on food for local consumption rather than for export. Currently, contract farming schemes for locally consumed food production are almost nonexistent, even though spot markets that coordinate the supply and demand of low-value staples are highly inefficient. 

Africa’s population will double in the next thirty years, and urban areas will absorb two-thirds of the increase. Local agricultural exchange markets will need to become more efficient to feed the growing urban population. Companies that invest in local farmers to meet the increasing demand for food can improve the agricultural supply chain while enjoying a relatively low-competition business environment.  

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Covid-19 and Rice Production in Africa​

Woman planting rice in Madagascar

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Covid-19 and Rice Production in Africa

By: Shira Petrack

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes 

The repercussions from the Covid movement restrictions and supply chain disruptions expose the need for food sovereignty in Africa. The region has the agricultural potential to produce enough rice to feed itself and to export abroad. Agribusinesses that collaborate with African farmers to increase yields can cater to the growing demand for foodstuff on the continent and contribute to Africa’s food security while enjoying a market characterized by relatively low competition and steadily growing demand. 

The Need for Rice Sovereignty in Africa

The fallout from Covid-19-related containment measures has highlighted once more the importance of increasing agricultural production in Africa. The region still imports a significant portion of its food, making the continent particularly vulnerable to disruptions in the global food supply chain. Now, it seems the pandemic might be threatening Africa’s rice deliveries

Rice imports are critical to food security on the continent. Even Nigeria, the largest rice-producing country in the region, still imports a significant portion of its rice, despite government efforts to curtail imports and boost local rice production. Around 12% of the rice grown locally is lost post-harvest due to inefficient milling and inadequate storage and transportation. West Africa, the largest rice-producing region, also imports a large portion of its rice, although imports decreased from 50% in 2010 to 30% in 2020. East Africa imports on average around a quarter of the rice it consumes, but the specific rate per country varies from 5% in Tanzania to 54% in Rwanda. 

Rice is the second source of calories in Africa (after corn), and over a third of rice consumed on the continent is imported. Due to container shortages, the cost of shipping rice to West Africa from South East Asia tripled in the last quarter of 2020, raising the prices for end consumers. Adverse weather conditions in Vietnam and Thailand further tightened the rice supply, prompting China to import rice from India for the first time in three decades. The events of 2020 have highlighted the dependence of Africa’s food supply on its international suppliers. 

Rice Production in the Region 

The local movement restrictions and the disruptions to the global supply chain have also affected local rice production. Over 90% of Africa’s total cultivated area is exclusively rain-fed, so planting in the right period is critical to ensure that the crops get the water they need to grow. On much of the continent, planting maize and rice begins in February to April, at the peak of the lockdowns. The Covid safety measures blocked many seasonal laborers from reaching rice farms on time and prevented farmers from getting the seeds they needed, which will affect yields

For African farmers who are already struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change, and in a region where poverty and malnourishment remain high, any drop in harvest can be dangerous. Covid has exposed the need for African farmers to upgrade and modernize their production methods to better adapt to the changing and erratic climate, make their crops more resilient, and increase their harvest.

Building Business Collaborations to Enhance African Agricultural Production 

To wean itself off food imports, Africa needs to produce a lot more rice. The right investments and collaboration can increase African rice production and raise the incomes of millions of people across the region. According to the World Bank, Africa is well-positioned for a massive expansion of agricultural production. The continent has the highest reserves of untapped natural resources for food production in the world, with around 45% of the global land that is non-protected, non-forested, and with low population density. 

The land that is being cultivated is not worked efficiently. African farm systems are the least mechanized across all continents. The majority of African farmers are small-holder farmers who work the land with no tractor and no irrigation system. Mechanization and irrigation can increase land productivity, and crop monitoring solutions can allow farmers to better care for their crops during their lifecycle. 

Even though many rice-producing African countries have similar climate conditions to rice powerhouses such as Vietnam and Thailand, Africa currently produces only 4.3% of the world’s rice. The International Rice Research Institute points out that rice is a relatively young crop in Africa, which only recently became a priority crop. The potential for rice in Africa is vast, and the market is currently wide open. Enhancing rice research capacity and strengthening the rice value chain is crucial to developing a thriving African rice sector. With proper inputs, irrigation, machinery, technological solutions, and post-harvest processing and storing facilities, Africa can grow enough rice to feed its population and export the surplus globally. 

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Cannabis Opportunities in Africa

Cannabis

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Cannabis Opportunities in Africa

By: Shira Petrack

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes 

African farmers have been growing cannabis in Africa for centuries. Nevertheless, consumption of the plant for either medical or recreational purposes is banned almost everywhere on the continent. Recently, however, the growing global demand for medical cannabis has caused several African countries to rethink their cannabis cultivation laws. 

Indeed, as more and more countries worldwide legalize marijuana consumption for medicinal and even recreational purposes, the market for legal cannabis is exploding. The global market for legal cannabis is expected to reach almost $43 billion by 2024. By 2027, the demand for legal cannabis in Europe alone should hit $37 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 2019 – an almost 30% CAGR.

Legal Cannabis Cultivation is Growing in Africa 

In 2017, Lesotho became the first country on the continent to grant an administrative license for the commercial cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. Since then, several countries have followed suit, including ZimbabweSouth AfricaMalawieSwatiniZambiaUganda, and RwandaGhana has also authorized cannabis production, but only for varieties with THC (the plant’s psychoactive ingredient) levels of 0.3% or less.

Some of these countries, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, are major tobacco exporters. Policy makers hope that cannabis can replace tobacco as the country’s top cash crop, given tobacco’s destructive environmental footprint. 

While most countries that allow cultivation also authorize the consumption of cannabis for medical purposesUganda and Rwanda are currently growing the plant strictly for exports. 

In other countries where cannabis production is still illegal, such as Tanzania and Kenya, large amounts of the crop are still grown and exported. The economic incentives to legalize the already existing cannabis trade might mean that these countries’ regulations could also change

What Makes Africa Particularly Suited for Cannabis Cultivation? 

Most of Africa’s climate is favorable to cannabis cultivation. The plant likes warm and sunny weather and does not do so well in the cold. Certain cannabis strains can also thrive in extreme heat. Some growing techniques such as dry farming allow farmers to grow the crop using mostly rainfall with minimal additional watering if the climate conditions are right. Drip irrigation is also a cheap and efficient way to water cannabis crops in Africa. 

The cannabis plant grows in stages. First come the initial germination and seedling. Then, the plant enters the vegetative phase and produces most of its leaves and branches. After several weeks, the plant can enter the flowering stage. If the plant is a male plant, it will grow pollen sacks. If it is a female plant, it will produce flowers (“buds”) that can be smoked or processed into tinctures and oils. 

The plant switches from the vegetative phase when the days begin to shorten and the nights last at least 12 hours. Even though cannabis needs 12 hours of darkness to bloom, prolonged and continuous sunlight (up to 12 hours) will produce the best flowers. Thus, most of Africa is optimal for cannabis production since almost the entire continent lies within 35 degrees of the Equator, where the days never get too short. 

While many areas of the United States are suitable for outdoor cannabis cultivation, most of Europe lies north of the 40th parallel and so does not receive enough sunlight during the winter. The plant cannot flower in the European summer either, since the long summer days keep the plant in the vegetative phase. Of course, European growers could grow their crops indoors using artificial lights, but this requires a tremendous amount of electricity, which is costly both in terms of money and environmental toll. 

Global Potential of Africa’s Cannabis Market 

Africa, with its favorable climate conditions and proximity to Europe, seems well placed to cater to the growing European market for medical cannabis. The continent’s warm weather, rich soil, and abundant sunshine can help it compete against established cannabis powerhouses. Unlike Canada or the Netherlends, where the cold climate requires cannabis to be grown in resource intensive greenhouses, cannabis in Africa can be cultivated outdoors in open fields. Indeed, several American and Canadian companies have already set up or expressed interest in setting up farms and processing plants on the continent, despite the flourishing cannabis cultivation industry in their home countries. 

Setting Up a Cannabis Operation in Africa 

There are a lot of factors to consider before setting up a cannabis operation in Africa. First and foremost, you need to decide on the country. Some countries have legalized medical cannabis cultivation but not processing. Others authorize processing but have already granted long-term exclusive licenses to major companies. Your target market will also affect your choice since different countries have different export agreements with off-continent partners. 

Once you’ve decided what country you want to work in, getting the legal license can pose a new set of complications. And after you receive your license, you will need to build your operation, hire the right people, and set up your local supply chain. 

That’s where we come in. Empower Africa’s Agriculture Solutions and Consulting Services combine the world’s top agronomy experts, industry-leading technology, and tailor-made business-oriented solutions. We can walk you through the process to help you build the most efficient and profitable version of your African cannabis operation.

Contact us, and let’s grow your business.

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Invest in African Agriculture

Sierra Leone fields

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Invest in African Agriculture

By: Shira Petrack

Untapped business opportunities abound in Africa’s agriculture sector. Beyond the profits, however, investing in African agriculture offers the rare chance to catalyze growth in a sector that employs more than half of all working people in Sub-Saharan Africa and to move the continent towards food sovereignty. 

Today, despite the considerable human labor working on some of the most extensive tracts of arable land left in the world, agriculture accounts for only around 15% of SSA’s GDP. What is more troubling is that continent is still not growing enough food to feed its population. 

Most Food on the Continent is Imported – and It’s Still not Enough

Instead of attaining food sovereignty through the farmers’ agricultural efforts, Africa imports most of its food. The continent’s already sizable food import bill increases year after year and is expected to more than triple from $35 billion in 2017 to $110 billion by 2025

The low agricultural yields are largely due to the lack of investment into basic efficiency raising measures such as irrigation systems, mechanization, and adequate storage facilities. Up to 70% of farmers cultivate parcels of less than two hectares manually using hoes. 

Even with the imports, there is still not enough affordable food for everyone. Around 1 in 5 people on the continent are classified as severely food insecure, and over half the population is moderately food insecure. Thirty-three percent of children under the age of five are considered stunted

These statistics translate to over 224 million people on the continent who live in households where at least one person during the year has reduced the quantity of the food, skipped meals, gone hungry, or gone a whole day without eating because of a lack of money or other resources. At least 610 million people live in households where at least one person was forced at times during the year to eat low-quality diets or reduce the quantity of food they would normally eat because of a lack of money or other resources. And Africa is the only region in the world where the number of stunted children has risen in the past twenty years.

Building a Strong Agricultural Sector – What Will it Take?

Affluent countries, multinational organizations, and international foundations have been sending commodities and other types of international assistance to Africa for decades. Unfortunately, food aid is too low and too sporadic to bring real food security to the continent. 

Instead, sustainable food sovereignty on the continent will most likely come through the private sector. Companies and individuals who want to make a difference need to realize that investing in agriculture in Africa is not just a moral imperative – it is also a savvy business decision. In the short run, investments in irrigation, mechanization, storage facilities, and modern inputs will allow farmers on the continent to grow enough food for them and their communities. In the long term, these same farmers will be able to produce and store surpluses and sell them throughout the continent and internationally. The world’s population is increasing at a dizzying pace, and with the right investments, Africa can become its breadbasket.  

By putting their “skin in the game,” international investors and agribusinesses will be more motivated to continue investing in African agriculture year after year. And since Africa has such large tracts of underutilized arable land, investors will be able to reap significant rewards by giving local farmers the means to obtain the most from their fields. 

In the past decade, private equity investments into agriculture have risen globally, with most investments going to Africa. But a much larger investment is still needed. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, Sub-Saharan Africa requires an investment of $8 billion for improved storage and $65 billion for irrigation to achieve its agricultural potential. In terms of inputs, farmers across the region need eight times more fertilizer and six times more quality seeds to reap the most from their soil.

How to Start Investing in African Agriculture 

If you are an agribusiness executive or investor reading these lines, you might realize the opportunity – but you don’t know where to start. When it comes to Africa, it is much harder to use the web to obtain even basic market data, and many seasoned businessmen lack the connections necessary to find the right local partners. Even after such partners are identified, conducting due diligence can be nearly impossible. 

That’s where we come in. Whether you are an international investor looking for the right local partner, an agribusiness executive considering expanding into or across Africa, or a local farmer wishing to increase your yields, we can help. Empower Africa’s Agriculture Solutions and Consulting Services combine the world’s top agronomy experts, industry-leading technology, and tailor-made business-oriented solutions to help you build the most efficient and profitable version of your African agriculture business. 

Contact us, and let’s grow your business.

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The Future of Food Production in Africa: Investing in Agriculture after Covid-19

The Future of Food Production in Africa

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The Future of Food Production in Africa: Investing in African Agriculture after Covid-19

By: Leah Ngari

Africa has the building blocks – including a large population working in agriculture and abundant, fertile land – necessary to grow all of its own food and even produce a surplus. Over the past years, foundations and NGOs have invested in farmer education, improved inputs, irrigation projects, and other initiatives to help farmers increase both the quality and quantity of their yields. More private investment in African agriculture can remove some of the obstacles that are currently keeping African farmers from achieving their land’s full potential.

The pandemic is expected to impact Africa beyond the immediate public health crisis. Since 2015, the prevalence of undernourishment on the continent has steadily increased, with extreme climate fluctuations contributing to rising food insecurity. Even without the Coronavirus, this year’s locusts outbreak – which has yet to be contained – has put 5 million people in East Africa at risk for starvation. And African farmers often lack regular internet access, which can impede farmers from efficiently utilizing their land and resources. 

Covid-19 lockdowns and border closers have already brought to light deep vulnerabilities in the global food supply chain. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), twenty-seven countries worldwide – over half of which are in Africa – are on the brink of a Covid-19-driven food crisis

As the head of the World Food Program warned the UN Security Council:

“I’d like to lay out for you very clearly what the world is facing at this very moment. At the same time while dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic.”


Currently, the biggest challenge to Africa’s food security is that despite its vast agricultural potential, the region is still
a net food importer. As a result, disturbances in the global food supply chain that limit access to food imports hit Africa particularly hard.

Traditional donor countries such as the US and UK are now facing their own economic crises. So far, states have heeded international organizations’ call for funds, with countries such as Germany and the UK contributing tens of millions of dollars to the WHO’s Coronavirus emergency fund. Given Covid-19’s economic toll on the global economy, however, regular fund transfers and aid for non-Coronavirus programs is likely to decrease significantly.  

FAO-WFP Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots

Now is the time to revolutionize agriculture in Africa

The current crisis presents an opportunity for Africa to develop and modernize its agriculture sector, which would put the region on a path towards food security and economic prosperity. Countries that wish to use the current crisis as an opportunity to enhance their food security, improve the resilience of their food supply chain, and reach self-sufficiency in food production can take several steps:

a) Diversification

Many farmers in Africa concentrate their efforts on growing a single staple crop (often maize). This lack of diversification not only makes it hard for farmers to receive adequate nutrition; it also makes their fields less resilient to climate change and erratic weather patterns.

One of the obstacles to diversification is convincing farmers – and the greater population – to prepare and eat a more varied diet. Since the pandemic might make certain staple foods less available, governments now have an excellent opportunity to educate the public on the health benefits of lesser-known crops. Governments can also run public education campaigns to teach the people that adequate overall nutrition means more than just a minimum amount of daily calories. Companies and entrepreneurs can provide inputs and guidance to farmers on planting and caring for unfamiliar crops.

b) Invest in Farmer education

Farmers on the continent often employ traditional farming techniques that have been passed down over the generations. But advances in agriculture have revolutionized agricultural practices and led to much of the world growing more abundant yields of sturdier and more nutritious crops.

Introducing and improving national and regional farmer education projects can help farmers get the most out of their time in the field.

c) Invest in Mechanization

65% of land in Sub-Saharan Africa is still tilled, plowed, and weeded manually. Due to the availability of physical labor, lack of funds, and other structural reasons, farmers in the region tend not to invest in modern tools and equipment. The lockdown, which has limited laborers’ availability in many markets, may encourage farm owners to shift to machine use over human labor.

Investors and entrepreneurs can work together to establish machine-lending schemes that would allow farmers to reap the benefits of mechanization without purchasing expensive equipment that is used only a couple of months a year.

d) Invest in Infrastructure

Africa’s underdeveloped infrastructure poses a considerable challenge to farmers’ productivity and profitability. The scarcity of roads in rural areas makes it difficult for farmers to move their crops to the local markets. The prevalence of unpaved roads and inadequate port facilities on much of the continent hinders national and inter-African trade and makes African countries dangerously dependent on imports shipped by air from outside the region. Lack of access to electricity also hinders Africans’ ability to establish food manufacturing facilities and add value locally to the agricultural raw materials. 

Lastly, investing in irrigation and other water technologies would allow farmers to use current inputs to dramatically improve their yields. Without neglecting large scale irrigation investments, governments and donor organizations can also fund farmer-led informal irrigation ventures

The current crisis, which has underscored the importance of functional infrastructure at the local, domestic, and regional level, may encourage renewed efforts to close Africa’s infrastructure gap.

e) Invest in National Food Stockpiles

Many African countries do not currently have national emergency food stockpiles. Instead, they rely on foodstuff imported on a need-to-need basis to adequately feed their citizens. The pandemic may drive governments and farmers’ collectives to build storage warehouses and stock up on food when the regular food supply is disrupted. Better crop storage facilities will also help mitigate the significant post-harvest losses that African farmers currently experience.

The private sector can also invest in storage centers to serve small-holder farmers according to various business models. Companies that want to serve lower-income farmers can accept payment in kind and receive a portion of the grain in exchange for the storage services,  where farmers pay for storage. Eventually, companies can build these storage facilities into holistic support centers for farmers that provide inputs, guidance, and equipment.

f) Encourage local food production

The current crisis has highlighted many African countries’ dependence on imported foods. What happens when an exporting country cuts off the supply? 

When Vietnam announced what turned out to be a temporary ban on rice exports, many experts worried that scarcity would push up the price of food staples beyond the reach of many. Although Vietnam’s rice exports to Africa have since resumed, this episode could serve as a wake-up call for countries to encourage local production and transition towards food self-sufficiency.

Now is an ideal time for governments to move their countries away from a reliance on imports. States can institute policies that protect local producers, such as “smart” subsidies as part of sustainable soil fertility management practices.

g) Agriculture and Technology

With most people spending even more time indoors due to lockdowns, digital communications have increased globally. As a result, governments and international organizations are redoubling their efforts to increase digital literacy in Africa. This, in turn, will also help Africa’s farmers produce more food, since the increased use of the internet also increases agricultural knowledge.

Conclusion

The current pandemic may plunge much of Africa into a long term economic and public health crisis. The continent is young, and its demographic gives it an advantage in battling the Coronavirus. In the medium and long term, however, one of the region’s most pressing concerns is the pandemic’s effect on Africa’s food security. 

The IMF has stated that 2020 will be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems. In some regions, such as the European Union, the pandemic highlighted the urgency of transitioning towards a healthier and more sustainable food production system. The EU is now focussing on offsetting the biodiversity loss caused by industrial agriculture practices that have made humanity more vulnerable to virus outbreaks

Governments in Africa can also take this opportunity to establish measures that will help their population weather the current emergency and develop long-term food security. Creating these programs will require funding from international institutions such as the Worldbank and IMF as well as cooperation from the local, regional, and global private sector. But it can be done. By working together, the current crisis can serve as a turning point for agriculture on the continent. 

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Africa’s Growing Population – An Opportunity for Agricultural Development

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Africa’s Growing Population - An Opportunity for Agricultural Development

By: Elenah Kimaru

Did you know that the world’s population is expected to reach almost 10 billion people by 2050? Much of this population growth will be in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where population growth is the fastest in the world – over double the rate of growth of South Asia, the world’s next fastest growing region. If these trends continue, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050, when 1 in 4 people worldwide will be living in SSA.

The surge in working age adults has the potential to increase productivity, improve innovation, and transform African economies. But the population surge will only benefit the economies that can absorb the influx of new workers. Already, most employment in SSA is self-employment. And in a region where the more labor-intensive manufacturing and agriculture sectors are often underdeveloped, and where good services jobs are not always available, there is a concern that African economies will lack the capacity to absorb so many new workers. Graça Machel, former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, warns: “Even though our youth have the potential to transform Africa if neglected, they could exacerbate poverty and inequality while threatening peace, security, and prosperity”

Now is the time to increase agricultural productivity

One thing, however, is certain: An increase in Africa’s population means more mouths to feed. This is sure to pose a challenge in a region already struggling with food insecurity.

Africa has the potential to feed not only itself – it can become the world’s next breadbasket, and use its agricultural potential to guarantee food security and grow its economy. Africa’s enormous size (over 30 million km²) and variations in elevation, waterways, climates and soil types contributes to a diversity of environmental conditions where many different kinds of crops and farming operations can thrive. And increasing productivity in agriculture is key to Africa’s economic development: In 2018, the agriculture sector accounted for only 16% of SSA’s GDP, but it employed 55% of the workforce. Imagine the impact that increasing agriculture productivity could have on the population and on the economy!

Current challenges

Today, Agricultural productivity on the continent has not reached even close to its potential. This is due in large part to the lack of farming modern techniques and expertise, the use of low quality inputs and the misuse of inputs, and the relative lack of farming tools and equipment. (Of course, these trends are not equally represented in every country.) As a result, despite Africa’s significant agricultural potential, the continent is a net food importer.

The role of the private sector

Most agricultural production on the continent is carried out by small scale family farms that often produce at near-subsistence levels. Thus, improvements in agricultural productivity will need to involve private sector empowerment. Small-holder farmers will adopt modern farming techniques, input use, and farming equipment if it makes economic sense for them. So long as farmers do not have storage solutions for their surplus crops or easy access to markets, they lack the economic incentive to take financial risks to try and increase their yields.

Companies bringing innovative solutions to any aspect of the agricultural production chain can play a pivotal role in SSA’s agriculture market, help farmers unlock the potential of their land, contribute to African and global food security, and build successful businesses.

The role of government

Of course, the governments also have a function in developing food production capacity. Subsidizing the costs of farm inputs such as fertilizers and seeds can encourage farmers to take the risk on unfamiliar types of inputs. Governments can also regulate the land market in their countries. The lack of a regulated land market and clear property rights is a major impediment to long term investment in agricultural development.

Working together to accelerate Africa’s agricultural revolution

Africa as a continent must be prepared to feed its growing population. Instead of seeing the rising number of mouths to feed as a challenge, the demographic shift can be an opportunity to transform Africa’s agriculture sector into the world’s breadbasket. For this to happen, however, all stakeholders will need to work together to make sure that SSA is fully tapped into its agricultural potential.

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Ready to soar over the fields of Sierra Leone, Agrimapic recognizes the country’s potential

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Ready to soar over the fields of Sierra Leone, Agrimapic recognizes the country's potential

How can a government determine which areas of a country to dedicate for agriculture?

How will a farmer know which fields require the most urgent care after a major storm?

How can an agribusiness manager monitor their farm’s holdings?

Utilizing land for agriculture in a truly effective and efficient manner requires accurate and up-to-date information about the area. Unfortunately, modern mapping and surveying expertise are often unavailable in Sierra Leone. This makes it much harder to assess and chart the apx. 45,123 km² of arable land in the country that still lies fallow, despite the country’s persistent food insecurity.

Existing farms, including some larger agriculture operations, still make use of paper maps to manage and monitor the yield. But since traditional paper maps are much harder to update, and natural occurrences and fluctuations change the terrain frequently, paper maps rapidly become obsolete, making it nearly impossible for Sierra Leonean farmers to make the most efficient use of their land.

Sierra Leone has abundant rainfall and natural irrigation channels. Weather patterns in the country have remained relatively stable over the past decade. Ample tracts of tropical soil that have been cleared, lie ready for planting. The absence of modern imagery, mapping equipment, and expertise is holding the country’s agricultural sector back.

This is why we were thrilled to have Benny Shimon, founder and C.E.O. of Agrimapic, join us on our Trade Mission. Agrimapic provides high-resolution aerial data and analytical solutions in Israel and internationally. The company’s technology has numerous applications, including 3D mapping, crop inspection, environmental monitoring, forestry, and construction. Agrimapic and tailors its products and services to the specific needs of each customer.

While Agrimapic is a global company, supporting projects in Asia, Europe, and the United States, it has yet to begin operating in Africa. Benny considers the Trade Mission to have been “a life changing experience in terms of seeing how agriculture is still practiced in certain areas in Africa and understanding the potential that modern tools and practices dramatically increase yields in Africa in General and in Sierra Leone in particular”

Agrimapic is currently working on a sensor that can collect data points about the crops in real time, provide analysis on their health, and automatically initiate an automated response if needed. These sensors can attach to most drones and fixed wing UAVs and works in areas lacking cellular and internet coverage. This makes it ideal in areas with limited ICT infrastructure.

“This was my first time in Africa,” Benny said.

“The Trade Mission gave me a chance to speak to executives from other companies already established in Africa, and I learned that so much is happening now on the sub-continent in terms of agriculture. I was also able to speak to senior Sierra Leonean officials and get a sense of their commitment to developing the sector and increasing yields. This Trade Mission made me begin to view Africa as a business destination.”

If you too want to get involved in driving Sierra Leone’s agriculture sector forward, please contact our Director of Agriculture Maoz Aviv at maoz@empowerafrica.com

Register now for early access to the Empower Africa Business Network.

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