The global food system is under acute and rising pressure – and Africa’s farmers are feeling its full force. There is still more than enough food in the world to feed everyone. But population and economic growth as well as the search for low-carbon energy sources are driving up demand for arable land, while climate change, ecological constraints and lower levels of productivity growth in agriculture are limiting food supply. Will Africa’s vast untapped potential in agriculture become a source of rural prosperity and more balanced economic growth, or will it act as a magnet for more speculative investments, land grabs and the displacement of local communities?
The livelihoods of two out of every three Africans continue to depend on farming. Agriculture is the primary source of income for Africa’s women. Apart from providing jobs and food for rural populations, Africa’s farms also supply urban areas with food. Yet many of Africa’s farmers are being left behind.
Smallholder agriculture must be placed at the centre of a green revolution for Africa. Unlocking productivity gains will require new thinking, new approaches to public spending and strong political leadership.
Governments will need to invest in the infrastructure that makes it possible for smallholders to compete in markets. They will need to invest more in research and development relevant to farmers working with low levels of inputs in rain-fed conditions, so that improved seeds, fertilisers and technologies become available. Soil and water management will also need to be strengthened.
At the same time, Africa’s smallholder farmers need support to adapt to climate change, and protection against large-scale land purchases that do not protect the rights of communities to natural resources or promote local or national food security.