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A new green frontier

Par Zyad Limam - Publié en avril 2024

Africa is central to the century's strategic challenges. This huge continent is home to almost 1.2 billion people, with a projected population of 2 billion by 2050. A developing continent, but one where the fight against poverty is a constant priority. A continent undergoing revolutionary urbanisation, which is overturning traditional social patterns, trade flows and the population's demands. A continent on the front line of climate change, which is already impacting the lives and work of millions of Africans.

Yet, on this increasingly populated and increasingly urbanised continent, agriculture is still a secondary issue, even though it should be a major priority. In Africa, agriculture is fundamental to everything, to the social pact, and is pivotal to society. It is the main source of income. Nearly 60% of the population at least 300 million people, many of them women work the land.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest-growing agricultural region in the world. Production has more than tripled in value over the last thirty years. But this progress has been achieved by continually extending cultivated areas and increasing the workforce. And this has had consequences for an already fragile environment. Productivity and output remain low, well below potential and needs. Ultimately, 60% of the working population is employed in a sector that generates less than 20% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP ($400 billion out of a total GDP of $2,000 billion). The level of productivity in African agriculture is, on average, a third of that in Asia. Less than 10% of land is irrigated, compared with more than 40% in Asia.

The continent has also become dependent on imports. The value of these imports could exceed the 110 billion mark by 2025. A situation that weighs heavily on public accounts. The colonial legacy has encouraged the development of cash crops (coffee, cocoa, cotton, etc.) at the expense of food crops. These crops, which are particularly affected by market fluctuations, do not contribute to the continent's food security. At the same time, consumption patterns have been turned upside down with the emergence of ‘non-African’ products such as wheat, rice and soya, which have become indispensable. And urbanisation is creating a demand for different, fast food, often based on... imported products.

This dependence leaves sub-Saharan Africa dangerously exposed to fluctuations in world markets and international crises. The most recent example was the impact of the war in Ukraine on wheat supplies and prices. Rice (which has become a staple food) market stress and the possible protectionism of certain major producers, such as India, further demonstrate the risk. All of which could lead to high inflation and impact associated public subsidies...

Agriculture thus remains a major strategic challenge. In the 21st century, in 2024, despite the toil of millions of African men and women, food sovereignty and security issues remain an urgent public concern. Malnutrition, undernutrition and famine continue to be unacceptable realities. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), nearly 300 million people will be at risk by 2025.

This general state of precariousness must be remedied. Make agriculture central to public development policies. Make small farmers the mainstay of modern African agriculture, and nurture their ecosystem. Take action in favour of protecting and managing the soil, and the use of fertilisers. Promote public-private partnerships and encourage entrepreneurship. Envision the future, support products and crops adapted to climate change, and think about what the world's rich consumers are looking for: organic produce, natural products, authentic food...

Sector players are aware of the urgency of this African agricultural revolution. Of the need to attain and surpass this new green frontier. The potential for jobs and positive growth circles is real, with the development of hinterlands and competitive agro-industrial sectors. Agriculture is also a profitable business, through the promotion of attractive and competitive "grown in Africa" products. Africa can feed itself and a large part of the world.