THEME : FOOD SECURITY, FROM SUBSISTENCE TO COMMERCIAL
The world is at a threshold of global food insecurity and global attention is fixated on Africa for practical solutions to stave off this looming catastrophe and save mankind from possible annihilation instigated by hunger.
As a minister of the gospel, I recall many biblical parallels when Africa rose to the occasion to provide either food security or refuge for the sustenance of the human race.
One startling parallel is recorded in the book of Genesis which gives an account of how Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, at the time a foreigner in the African nation of Egypt, provided a divine solution to ensure food security and implemented a strategy that avoided the possible effects of a looming famine which threatened the very existence of the entire population of modern-day Middle East from extinction.
We are at that place again today.
Recent history records show that Africa has been and continues to be the source and foundation of the wealth of many nations supplied by its rich endowment of natural resources and it is not an exaggeration to state that in his divine wisdom, God seems to have placed Africa on planet earth to occupy a central and critical place of relevance to the very existence of the entire human race.
For most people however, their image of Africa is cast and fixated in negative stereo-type images of hunger, war, disease, internal strife, corruption and it may therefore come as a total surprise that Africa probably holds the key to feeding the two to three billion people who will add to the world’s population by 2050.
In an article dated February 2016 by Charles Krokoff entitled AFRICA: THE ANSWER TO GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY, Krokoff argues that Africa has an estimated 60% – about 1.4 billion acres – of the world’s uncultivated, arable land with fertile soils, a readily available and affordable labour force from a population set to double to 2 billion by 2050, abundant water resources from its many rivers and lakes, a favorable tropical climate that allows cultivation of at least two crops per year and with the right kind of investment, should be able to feed not only itself but much of the rest of the world.
However, the recent troubling phenomena of escalation of global food prices, population explosion, food shortages sparked by the negative effects of climate change such as droughts and floods all combine to negatively impact on global food security. It is therefore of extreme importance that us African leaders of this generation, on the world stage now, leading a continent with such abundant advantage over the many issues currently militating against food security globally, must wake up, stop the current rhetoric on diversification, roll up our sleeves and get down to real work in tackling the tremendous responsibility placed on our shoulders to come up with winning and practical strategies to provide food security and save the world population from hunger.
The theme of our topic for discussion today is Food Security: From Subsistence to Commercial.
Many conferences have been held in many places over many years to discuss how Africa can exploit its huge agricultural potential; and I am sure we have all benefited from luminaries of our time such as former UN Secretary-General, Koffi Annan in his outstanding work in what he calls the Uniquely African Green Revolution which seeks to develop a new vision for African agricultural development.
What variables are at play to make sure this task achievable?
1. Commercialization of Small-holder farmers
African agriculture is largely subsistence farming involving poor rural communities. This makes up the large portion of small-holder farming communities that need to be targeted for commercialization to increase agricultural productivity. Governments must take deliberate steps to critically look at the areas which need to be employed to transform this sector from subsistence to commercial.
One glaring issue is mechanization. Agriculture is the biggest employer in Africa therefore, in the zeal to mechanize, great care must be taken to find the correct critical balance between mechanization and human labour.
2. Infrastructure development
Infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, storage facilities are usually of poor quality in Africa. In recent years, however, the vast majority of African governments have preferred and embraced China’s development funding of infrastructure development to facilitate rapid economic growth, rather than the developmental aid from Western countries which concentrates on such issues as development of political institutions and social spending and so on.
This has resulted in a considerable improvement in the quality of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools, sports stadia, all very visible signs of development, which are useful to politicians for maintaining power.
Most African governments suffer from the specter of unclear, inconsistent and haphazard agricultural policies which have dealt a heavy blow against sustainable agricultural development. The psychology of a farmer and the very nature of the activity he is involved in require sustainable, clear and predictable policies because farming requires middle to long-term planning.
A lot of political pronouncements are made for instance to support diversification from main stay sectors such as mining. It is time to now get down to real work to make tangible strategies and clear-cut policies to make this dream achievable.
4. The role of women
Experts report that women in Africa are the most reliable resource and contribute 70 per cent of food production. They also account for nearly half of all farm labor, and 80–90 per cent of food processing, storage and transport, as well as hoeing and weeding.
They however have huge odds stacked against them such as lack of access to land because tenure policies in Africa mostly discriminate against women, compounded by vulnerability of widowhood, from the devastating effects of the HIV pandemic.
I would like to direct our audience to an article written by Newai Gebre of Ethiopia who has written an interesting article entitled Small-Holder Farming for Women in Ethiopia in which she discusses great insights on the nitty-gritty details on the issue of Commercialization of Small holder Agriculture in Ethiopia.
5. Land Tenure
In Africa, access to land in general, including issues of land tenure, ownership and usage rights are often ambiguous and stories abound of rich and powerful people forcing the small subsistence local farmers off the land while governments look the other way.
These are glaring but long-standing issues that have dogged African countries since independence. It is time for political leaders to treat this matter with the urgency it deserves and put workable modalities to remove the mysticism that surrounds land ownership and quickly simplify the issue of land use and ownership as a matter of urgency.
The emerging troubling effects of climate change which result in unreliable and extreme weather patterns of floods or prolonged droughts demand a deliberate policy direction towards well-planned intensive investment programmes into irrigation and harnessing of rain water.
We are facing extraordinary challenges and we need to urgently respond with urgent extraordinary solutions. It cannot be business as usual because the world is looking to us for solutions.
The Case for a New Type of Leadership in Africa
My presentation has not been one on technical detail due to limitation on time and the fact that there are technocrats here who can do a good job on providing technical details on each of the points I have mentioned.
My main focus is that it does not matter how technically crafted a nation’s policy is on many of these issues, in most cases, the challenge and the failure to implement all the good resolutions made at such meetings and others, fail at the leadership level.
The ‘Joseph’ Type of Political Leader
In my introductory remark, I gave an example of a Jewish leader called Joseph, a foreigner from Israel, who was among thousands of Jews who had fled the ravages of famine from his native land, eventually assumed the position equivalent to that of a modern-day Prime Minister at a very critical time in the history of the nation of Egypt.
Joseph came up with a God-inspired strategy, which helped him store seven years of harvest to protect the people from famine which was to hit the region in the following seven years.
What were the leadership qualities of Joseph?
Tenacity of the Leader
Joseph was a tried and tested leader who had faced incredible tribulations from the time his brothers threw him into a pit and left to die, all because of jealousy.
But God used these experiences and tribulations to develop a strong tenacious character in Joseph to prepare him for the work God had ahead of him to look after the people of an entire region and plan for their survival in the hard times ahead.
Africa is crying for strong leaders who have been through the mill of adversity, who will be able to steer the ships of their nations through whatever challenges that hit their country; leaders that will be strong, focused and fearless and that will inspire and give hope to every citizen of their country.
Compassion of the Leader
The trying challenges that Joseph went through from the pit, to prison, to the dungeon and eventually to the palace, helped him experience for himself the challenges that voiceless, ordinary people go through, some on a daily basis.
To have been abandoned and left to die by his own brothers, helped Joseph understand the pain of betrayal and abandonment. He was now able to have compassion for people who would go through such experiences.
The sweeping, unlimited power and the life of privilege and comfort that comes with political office in Africa has left a trail of scandals of plunder of resources, abuse of authority, self-aggrandizement, abuse of people’s rights, graft, insensitivity to the needs of the weak and vulnerable such as women, widows, orphans, and the elderly in society.
Africa is crying for a new type of leader, strong, focused, tenacious, leaders of morality and integrity that will turn the poor image of Africa in the eyes of the world, to one of envy towards what Africa can and will become when this self-less ‘Joseph’ type of leadership begins to rule the countries of Africa, all united in their resolve to transform Africa to be the continent of choice for foreign direct investment and development; Leaders who will not be swayed by short-term advantage of benefitting from hefty kick-backs from shady infrastructure development projects but honestly negotiate the best conditions for the benefit of their voiceless communities;
Africa is crying for focused, visionary political leaders whose sole purpose will be to lift the entire continent of Africa and remove the negative images of hunger, disease, civil war, and corruption that have dogged this beautiful continent since Independence.
“From Subsistence to Commercialization”
This is not an insurmountable task for a leader with vision and determination, a leader with requisite academic education but most of all, a leader who will be driven by moral aptitude and integrity in the management of a nation’s resources and its people.
Many leaders can pass the professional and academic skill-set test, the popularity test, the political oratory test, but all of us tasked with the responsibility of lifting Africa to be the answer to global food security, to the place of destiny prepared for it by God, needs and must of necessity pass the moral and integrity test.
What is my beloved country Zambia doing about this challenge?
Zambia is an enthusiastic and proud member of the global village, a nation of 14.5 million people, known the world over for their love and warmth, a vibrant and united people to whom internal strife and civil war are largely foreign.
Zambia is a natural hub in the Southern African sub-region surrounded by 8 sovereign nations, most of whom are suffering from the ravages of extreme weather which has translated into prolonged drought, resulting in crop failure and serious grain deficits.
This region is crying out to Zambia for help because the country has had successive bumper harvests due to progressive agricultural policies in the recent past and if carefully managed can be the answer to these cries. Smuggling of our maize and maize-meal locally called ‘mealie-meal’ by dubious businessmen in our country and from the surrounding countries is now rampant but can and should be turned into and seen as an opportunity telling us of the overwhelming demand for our food and that Zambia is actually recognized as the bread basket of the region.
African governments should now begin to formally help our farmers, to engage in properly formalized export trade of our grain to these countries. This will be the most sure way of inspiring them to double and increase their agricultural produce as they will be assured of a market and assisted in the process by their government.
This should be seen as Zambia’s training ground in answering to the call for Africa to be the bread basket of the entire world and I urge all leaders here to see opportunities that are screaming at us and take the necessary steps to play our role to ensure that no one in the world dies from hunger, in the midst of so much plenty and potential.
I thank you all for your kind attention.
Nevers Sekwila Mumba