Partnerships linked to trade critical for Africa’s economic transformation

The development of profitable and resource-efficient agricultural value chains must be part and parcel of such sustainable economic and industrial agenda. While subsistence farming has and will continue to play an important role in Africa’s food security, the future of agriculture and food supply in Africa must also take full cognisance of the rapidly changing demographics and as well as evolving food habits in the continent and globally. We must envision a new African agriculture that must feed 1.5 billion people and many more elsewhere in the globe in 2020 and not the agriculture that fed only 500 million inhabitants in 1950. With increasing demand and competition for production inputs such as fresh water, energy and land, and given the significant contribution of agriculture and the global food system to greenhouse gas emissions, reducing postharvest losses and waste and creating opportunities for economic livelihoods downstream the value chain are equally important.

Today, we must plan and implement the economic and technological transformation of agriculture that focuses on Africa’s future generation of farmers and consumers. We should focus on a new agriculture and economy in Africa that can guarantee food security as well as promote access to quality education and good health through the creation of jobs and income. With a rapidly aging and frail rural workforce and increasing urban population, there is an urgent need to transform smallholder subsistence agriculture, which accounts for more than 70% of present economic activity in many African countries, into integrated and profitable agribusiness value chains. This requires innovation in cost-effective, resource-efficient and environmentally friendly technologies for mechanisation of small-scale agriculture and development of related value-adding industries. In doing so, we stand a better chance of creating the much needed employment for youth in Africa and assure their participation in the wider economy.

The new path for sustainable agriculture and economic development in Africa must lead farmers into regional and global food systems, thereby feeding local people and the world through trade. No nation or continent walks alone along this path. Africa needs mutual, bilateral and multilateral economic partnerships. Not foreign aid. The Arab Spring revolution is a vivid testimony of the urgency for action in addressing these interrelated needs for gainful employment, income and human dignity.

Asia today, Africa tomorrow

As it did in Asia during the past couple of decades, resulting in new global economic powers like China and India, the wind of political and economic change is currently blowing across the African continent. People in many countries in Africa have found new courage to rightfully demand good leadership, democratic governance and economic freedom through gainful employment. This new found courage needs to be nourished with new economic opportunities that improve human wellbeing.

To succeed, Africa’s new leadership need to develop and nurture genuine and strong democratic institutions for sustainable economic development. This is the time for genuine bilateral and multilateral economic partnerships to develop viable and profitable agriculture and other industrial value chains in Africa, supported for strong education and research institutions, and catalysed by regional and global business and trade. An Africa that is economically and politically strong will not only enhance peace and stability in Africa and the world; it will also promote greater global trade and innovation for a stronger world economy. It is through such win-win partnerships that we should know and judge Africa’s leadership and our development partners. Finding sustainable solutions for economic transformation of Africa’s largely rural agricultural economy requires a major shift from donor aid to economic partnerships linked to trade in value-added goods and services.

Prof Umezuruike Linus Opara is agricultural engineering and research professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, where he holds the South African Research Chair in postharvest technology. He has extensive international experience in tertiary education, research and consultancy in Australasia, the Middle East and Africa. Email: [email protected]