A situation analysis of the agriculture in sub-saharan Africa

Recently, there has been a big debate about the use of neonicotinoides or rather systemic insecticides in the European Union. The European Commission declared now a partial prohibition of three neonicotinoides. In European organic farming, systemic pesticides are a priori prohibited. And in agricultural systems in Sub-Sahran Africa anyway, they play a minor role. The average small-holder farmer in the Global South is – in any case – facing different problems as a farmer in Austria. Here is a short progress report on the situation in Sierra Leone, whereby the problems in this particular country can be appropriated to many other low-developed Sub-Saharan countries.

If one has never been in a least developed countries, it is hard to imagine which livelihood conditions people are facing. In Sub-Saharan Africa, almost 33 percent of the population, or close to 200 million people, are undernourished[1. FAO (2006): Food Security and Agricultural Development in Sub- Saharan Africa. Policy Brief No. 1].

The majority of these undernourished people constitutes small-holder farmers and their families.

Lecture notes in ‘Welternährungswirtschaft’ 2012 from Prof. Gattermayer, Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Economics, University of Natural Sciences and Applied Life Sciences Vienna.
Lecture notes in ‘Welternährungswirtschaft’ 2012 from Prof. Gattermayer, Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Economics, University of Natural Sciences and Applied Life Sciences Vienna.

The table indicates that the mean farm size in Sub-Saharan Africa is about 2.4 ha, whereby 69 % of the farmer´s population grow food on an arable area below 2 hectares. Agriculture is regarded as the backbone of most African countries´ economy and provides a living for about 60 percent of the entire workforce. The basic infrasturcture constitutes a big problem in Sierra Leone. Bad road conditions and the lack of transportation systems often result in a complicated access to markets. The exhaustive lack of electricity allows for example no storage systems, even at the bigger market places. Because of the strong growing vegetation and the steady change of the land under cultivation (because of dry and rainy season), the internal access to the acreage is often complicated. Acidic soils and the low topsoil level, together with the signifying difference in precipitation rates between dry and rainy season, makes agricultural practices a lot difficulter. A new problem, which was detected in the last years, is the climate change with shifts of vegetation periodes and changes in the amount of precipitation. But the question arises what could be done against this fatal circumstances. During my yearlong agricultural research in Sierra Leone, improving in the sector of education, the establishment of various cooperations, participation on decision processes and paradigm change in form of fight against corruption have shown to be the main leverage points to enhance the livelihood system for smallholder farmers particular in Sierra Leone. But in my opinion, these points can be applied, of course with some variation, to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa too.

Organic farming has the potential to improve the livelihood systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. As an agricultural system with a high regard to natural eco-systems, organic farming is working with nature and not against it, neglecting the use of chemical pesticides and mineral fertilization.

Currently 0.88 million hectares of Africa´s agricultural land is certified organic land, constituting an increase of more than 10,500 hectares compared to the previous survey. This land is managed by at least 470,000 farms[2. Bouagnimbeck, H. (2008): Organic Farming in Africa. In: The world of organic agriculture. Statistics & emerging trends 2008. FiBL and IFOAM, p. 90-100.]

But in fact, the absolute area of agricultural land in Africa, which is not certified but more or less under organic production („by default“), is significantly higher. The majority of the smallholder farmers living in rural areas simply lack access to these new technologies.

Organic farming does not depend on these new technologies. All kind of input, be that fertilization in form of compost or liquid fertilizer or natural pesticides from substances like garlic or red pepper, can be produced on-site and usually, overall costs for these kind of input mainly consists of additional physical labour force. Additionally, organic production allows access to new markets for farmers to obtain premium prices for their produce (export and domestic) to use extra incomes for extra foodstuffs, education or healthcare. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural resources, strengthen communities, and improve human capacity, thus, improving food security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously[3. Hine, R. & Pretty, J. (2007): Promoting Production and Trading Opportunities for Organic Agricultural Products in East Africa – Capacity Building Study 3: Organic Agriculture and Food Security in East Africa. Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex.].

The export of organic agricultural products has been seen as a possibility to improve the income situation for smallholder farmers. But to achieve that, an organic certification system has to be built up. But still, one question that still remains unanswered is a focus on the export of agricultural products creates negative influences on food security issues for the smallholder farmers.

For the organic certification, there is a considerable need to create a united and comprehensive certification system that is internationally recognized and allows produce to enter directly into developed markets (cp. Taylor 2006). A better infrastructure of physical and informal nature must be built up as satisfying export market demands in terms of quality, quantity and consistency of supply is another major challenge for organic farmers and exporters (cp. Bakewell-Stone 2006). Furtheron, the certification is still very expensive and domestic people with skills and knowledge in international trade and business are scarce, whereby management-skills and knowledge poses an overall problem in the entire sector of organic agriculture[4. Kledal, P. R. & Kwai N. (2010): Organic Food and Farming in Tanzania. In: The world of organic agriculture. Statistics & emerging trends 2010. FiBL and IFOAM. p. 111ff.]
A crucial factor of great potential will be the implementation at the governmental level, where major interventions to boost organic agriculture and the interlinked certification could be undertaken. So far, governments have played a more inhibitoring role.

Summa summarum, there is still a long way to go and many restraints are threatening the development of organic agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, there is a positive trend to be observed in the organic agricultural movement and organisations are aspiring and getting more and more active to create awareness about organic agriculture and the opportunities of its practices. Recent history shows that the change towards a new agricultural vision in Sub-Saharan Africa is possible.


Shabka Background Nr. 2-2013

Christoph Rosinger: Organic agriculture and certification in Eastern Africa


Shabka Background Nr. 7-2013

Christoph Rosinger: Finding leverage points to improve the agricultural system in semi-rural areas in Sierra Leone

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