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15.12.2009 Agriculture


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In early part of this year, before March the 13th of 2009, when together with my team, put together a program on promoting for security in Africa; one thing that struck me during an intense contemplation on Agriculture in Africa was industrialization. I perceived an incoming industrial revolution in Africa that might pose a significant threat to agricultural advancement if government policy goes negatively unbalanced. Industrialization is great; it will allow Africa a bigger room in the goods and service market of the world. It will engulf as well agriculture with a lot of great prospects as agro-industries might receive a greater attention of government and both domestic and foreign investors as it is happening in Zambia and Rwanda. Both small scale and large scale commercial agriculture will be the drive for both the young and old. Industrialization will as well help African countries trade among one another in a unique way. This is because, most countries in Africa have almost the same commodity type; from agricultural resources to mineral resources. For example, Ghana cannot sell cocoa beans to the Ivory Coast and vice versa because they both produce it on commercial quantities. However, the story can greatly change if Ghana's cocoa is taken through an industrial process and chocolate is produced out of it. As it has been proven, Ghana's chocolate is the best in the world, the government and private sector actors in Ivory Coast might readily patronize a lot of Ghana made chocolate but will not do same for Ghana's cocoa beans because Ivory coast is the leading exporter of cocoa in Africa. These are some positive externalities of industrialization.

Many governments in Africa had pursued industrialization vigorously as part of their developmental plan over the decades. This has given rise to a lot of commercial agriculture where agro-industries are concerned. As a result, larger lands (arable lands) has been dedicated to industries. But, we all know that the greater percentage of the food provided the continent comes from indigenous Africans who own smaller farm lands. Now, imagine if the same size of arable lands allocated to factories are given to farmers whose desire is to invest their energies and time in large scale subsistence farming. It is subsistence farming that feeds Africa but when large scale commercial farming comes in, factories to process the cash crops cultivated on this commercial farms for exports will be a necessity. The question is, will Africa export food where as over 200million people of its people are chronically undernourished? Africa spends over $18billion on food importation; this means, greater percentage of the monies derived from Africa's food exports are used to buy food into Africa again, sometimes with costs higher than what it earns during export. The reality is that, the dependency theory always work against us, farm inputs are heavily subsidized for farmers in most of the countries outside continent we directly trade with. Hence, we will have to decrease the prices of our commodities so we can get a market for the foods we export.

This is where industrialization provokes a positive externality, where it embraces processed foods, some for export and some for domestic consumption. This will greatly help decrease a lot of processed foods we import. But, when industrialization completely shifts from agriculture into the manufacturing goods and services there will be a threat of an intense state of food insecurity. In Africa, it is only prospects for food security that was not dated among all of the things stated in the financial times of 2003; 9th July (read Financial Times, July 9, 2003; p.1). It is said that over 500 children die of malnutrition every day and the situation is worsening.

The negative externalities of industrialization are many but the significant among them, to me, are global warming and the provocation of acid rains it will command upon African soils. Africa already lies at the heart of the over-head sun. Emission of more Carbon dioxide gasses into its atmosphere will spell disaster. The depletion of the Ozone layer will make the situation unbearable for some crops to thrive as well as dehydrate farmers who use their natural energies to farm. Many children suffering from malnutrition, especially diarrhea, will be at greater risk since they will lose too much energy. Smaller streams that naturally irrigate certain farms lands will dry up as well as rivers and other important water bodies useful for irrigational purposes.

Secondly, poisonous gases emitted to the atmosphere from industries will induce acid rains, rich in sulfur and other chemicals, upon soils. Microorganisms that should add nutrients into the soil will eventually die; the only option will rest upon fertilizer usage, especially inorganic fertilizers, which is equally a disaster. A lot of inorganic materials in the body will pose health risk and many will die from food related diseases because Africa's health systems are so weak to cater well for the sick. Further more; additional monies will be spent on fertilizer importation, causing losses to Africa's foreign currency reserves and consequently sky-rocketing food prices. Already, most of the humus layers of Africa's agricultural soils have been completely destroyed by ploughs whose blades are several inches larger than the thickness of the humus layer. For example, in Ghana, the humus layer is about six inches thick so when you use ploughs with disk sizes of say, 26 or 32 inches on Ghana's soil, you will actually be burry the micro-organisms deep down leaving no nutrients to be absorbed by plants. This will result in more money being spent on the importation of inorganic fertilizers. Many farmers who cannot afford the high cost of production will subsequently move out of business. In 2008, the Algerian government invested $10billion into agriculture and it yielded great dividends, this is to tell you how risky the venture is. Therefore, since agriculture is such a risky venture (a reason that scares most African government away from investing heavily into it) we must not further heighten the risk by imposing unmanageable factors on it. There must be a limit for things we do. Food security is paramount. African leaders must not allow themselves to driven by this proclivity for modernity to the degree where all they care about is GDP growth rather than strengthening local food reserves. For most of these leaders, growth in GDP means an opportunity to attract more inter-governmental financial aid in-flows from the Western countries that never get to the African people.

Fidel Y. Tetteh (Modern Ghana)

Development / Accra / Ghana / Africa /

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