By Aghan Daniel
The rainy season is already here with us and most farmers have begun to plant various seeds nearly across Africa.
As the farmers descend upon their farms, one big issue that lingers among researchers is the inability of these farmers to access certified seed that can serve their immediate needs.
At the end of the planting season, less than 20 percent of all farmers would have planted certified and clean seeds.
The oft-told story of the seed sector in Africa is that it has always been grappling with a lot of challenges such as farmer apathy to adopting new and better varieties.
Given, it is incumbent upon the sector to engage more visibly among themselves than they have done in order to effectively pressurise governments to keep their promises on allocations to agriculture and other services which impact seed trade directly.
Such engagements must ensure that the seed companies, who are major taxpayers in many countries, hold political and business leaders to account, measuring their actions against their promises.
Bottlenecks that bedevil the sector, could, for example, be slayed if political leaders kept their word sprouting from their meeting in June last year, where there was renewed commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture.
The initial commitment was born in what is fondly referred to as the Maputo Declaration of 2003 where African presidents declared they would each allocate at least 10 percent of their total national budget towards agriculture.
Fifteen years on, and Africa still reports that the average expenditure on Agriculture is 4,5 percent.
Whenever agriculture is neglected, there is always the risk of malnutrition, which, in the words of Kofi Annan, Chair of the Africa Progress Panel, represents political failure.
Take the case of fruits and vegetables. Many smallholder farmers in many parts of Africa produce fruits and vegetables alongside their staple food – such as cereals, tubers and roots. Yet farmers are losing more than 50 percent of their crops due to lack of cold storage.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption (approximately 1,3 billion tonnes) gets lost or wasted.
Therefore, there is a need for post-harvest handling facilities for both horticultural produces and also for cereals. As we write this opinion, the drone technology is the new fad.
Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are revolutionising agriculture, for example the use of remote sensing in agriculture.
In essence, the use of drones for Precision Agriculture, farming, pest management and crop management is exploding worldwide.
Drones facilitate efficiency in agriculture and a new mode of farming has thus emerged – Precision agriculture, which is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops.
The seed sector in Africa should therefore keep the authorities on their toes so that such a technology does not by pass any country on the continent.
If that were to be done, many farmers and seed producers would benefit from enhanced sustainable agricultural development and food security by improving the use of ICTs in the sector. With two thirds of Africans dependent on farming for their livelihoods, boosting Africa’s agriculture will no doubt create economic opportunities, reduce malnutrition and poverty and generate faster, fairer growth.
That African farmers need more investment, better access to financial services such as loans and quality inputs including seeds and fertilisers is a fact that need not be laboured on, but rather acted upon. Its yield are millions of jobs.
Sadly, the neglect of the seed sector has allowed inequality on our continent to accelerate. Africa currently imports food worth US$35 billion each year. But African farmers should be producing the food and earning this money. The continent could – and should – be feeding itself and other regions too.
The reality on the ground is that it is possible to change the fortunes of African agriculture. Comparison should therefore be made with changes in the telecommunications sector, which have been described as possibly the greatest modern revolution this continent has seen – less than two decades ago- 70 percent of the African population had never heard a telephone ringing; today 70 percent have a telephone.
This is an inspiration that seed merchants need to use to boost our food and nutrition security and the prosperity in Africa.
Aghan Daniel is a veteran African journalist and Communication Officer at the African Seed Trade Association