In fact, agricultural production in Africa has the potential to serve world markets as well. The importance of agriculture to the world was felt with the food shortages and price spikes in the last several years. This has ignited greater interest in the agricultural sector, particularly in Africa, which has a lot of virgin, arable land. The purchase of African land for agricultural development by foreign investors and governments is a normal occurrence now.
Unfortunately, the agricultural sector in Africa faces challenges, including low crop yields, distribution, and access to world markets, giving a very different picture. However, some improvements in the value chain have made a significance difference as is illustrated by the example of Malawi.
If the US Christian church turns its attention to this opportunity, there are consumers, businesses, and investors within this faith community that could tie into the African agricultural sector. Christian businessmen, specialising in agriculture and related sectors, could develop and/or invest in African agricultural projects for profit. US Christians can take advantage of AGOA (to export products from Africa to US) and other US programmes.
The Christian church can also tie these business opportunities to communities they serve or provide aid to in Africa, helping develop sustainable livelihoods. This includes marketing, distributing, and selling the products among their networks. As an example, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee advocates purchasing Fair Trade products.
Again, it’s not that pieces of this puzzle are not already working in varying degrees, but it’s not configured as a market or economy to leverage and maximise existing assets within it to benefit the broadest number of members in the Christian faith network whether in Africa or elsewhere. If it does represent a market or economy, it is fragmented.
And finally, while there are significant challenges and obstacles to taking this approach, the Christian faith network has many leverage points working in its favour, including existing infrastructure to distribute information and resources, funding for seeding agricultural projects which will bring a return on investment, and most of all, ecosystems of people who have the knowledge and expertise to make it happen.
There can be no question that traditional ways of looking at assets and capital are reasons why many opportunities lie fallow. As we speak of innovation in technology, we also need to look at how to innovate the raw materials, both tangible and intangible, that we have and to which we have access to.
Cultural networks are a way of life in Africa, and they also represent channels through which business is done. The Christian faith network is one of those networks that have an extensive reach on the continent both in urban and rural areas, as well as formal and informal marketplaces.
The Christian faith network represents a unique network to leverage because on many variables it already has the resources – people on the ground, local knowledge and connections, funding, facilities, distribution channels, etc. The key is to transform use of these resources for economic development through broad-based, for-profit ventures.
This article was first published in Redefining Business in the New Africa (2011). Click here to buy the book.