Why it is difficult to be a farmer in sub-Saharan Africa
By Korir Isaac / Posted on February 18, 2022 | 1:56 p.m.
Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa remains a challenge, thanks to the many major infrastructural and natural challenges that farmers face today.
There is significant underinvestment in rural areas; insufficient access to infrastructure and markets; unfair market conditions; inadequate access to advanced technologies; and high production and transportation costs to name a few.
These challenges continue to cripple agricultural value chains, which in turn leads to low productivity and limited cost savings. For poorly performing value chains, weak capacity to comply with sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and agricultural product quality standards limits the share of African agricultural products in lucrative international markets.
Overcoming these constraints requires policy and legal interventions that enable regulatory institutions to carry out their mandate effectively, rather than being bottlenecks for agricultural enterprises.
Access limited to; agricultural advisory services (SCA); technical knowledge; market information; training; quality inputs and capital; are some of the main obstacles to which smallholder farmers in SSA improve their productivity, increase their incomes and strengthen food security today.
In Africa, water is perhaps the most limiting factor to agricultural production. Various organizations have often emphasized the intensification of agricultural production systems to be integrated into all agricultural development programs.
Nevertheless, agricultural investment in Africa should not ignore water use efficiency through small-scale irrigation, for example, under plastic “greenhouse” tunnels as providing an opportunity for intensification, especially in high-value cash crops such as vegetables.
For intensification of small-scale agriculture to materialize, efforts must be made to improve water harvesting and storage in appropriate conservation infrastructure for later use during drought. Dependence on rain-fed agriculture cannot guarantee the achievement of food security on the continent.
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Some of the challenges facing the agriculture sector include SSA:
- Limited access to finance
Large gaps remain in meeting the financial needs of smallholder farmers in SSA. Despite the importance of agriculture, many rural and farming households lack access to financial products and services that would enable them to build assets, invest in technology, increase productivity and cope with shocks such as droughts.
Rural households borrow money from informal institutions, most using friends and family or informal lenders, such as traders or processors. In addition, smallholder farmers tend to be geographically dispersed, resource-poor and illiterate, which amplifies loan costs and risks.
Furthermore, unpredictable weather conditions, long crop cycles, irregular market access and high input costs make it even less attractive to financial institutions.
Small-scale agriculture in SSA is often largely disaggregated, with smallholders owning small individual plots. This puts a strain on logistics and access to supply for agribusinesses who must invest significant time and money in coordination efforts.
This is especially true when it comes to travel to and from individual farms to negotiate contracts, assess crops, and collect loans and payments with farmers traveling to company sites to collect payments and loans. .
The lack of information or primary data on farmers, markets and extension services, for example, in a few selected countries, further limits the development of sustainable digital services that aggregate all data on a single platform to bring new benefits to farmers and increase the reach of value chain actors.
In most African countries, farmer organizations lack the knowledge and tools to identify, assess and communicate agronomic knowledge and advisory services to their members.
Extension service agents also face similar problems and often lack the means and tools, if they have the knowledge, to disseminate information to these farmers’ organizations in a timely manner.
In the case of financial management, smallholder farmers lack the respective knowledge and tools to enable this, resulting in poor or inaccurate records that are not consolidated enough to enable transparency, efficiency, good governance and accountability.
Smallholder farmers still do not have access to knowledge on current best practices and therefore end up misusing input resources at high cost and large crop losses. Obstacles to scaling up continue to pose a great challenge.
Extension agents are too few; farmers grow too many different crops and speak too many languages for service providers to develop and apply a standard approach or methodology; and transport infrastructure is inadequate, making it difficult for extension workers to reach rural communities.
Agri-input companies, on the other hand, have the necessary inputs but struggle to reach smallholder farmers who mostly live in remote and hard-to-reach places.
The central link between the two, agronomists and extension agents, also often lacks a platform on which to record farm and crop data that could help other actors in the value chain.
This can lead to a vicious cycle of misinformation, misuse of resources, low productivity and crop loss despite high input costs, and a disconnected and underperforming value chain system.