The comeback of African agriculture



An interesting article published on the Economist mentioned the story of Jean Pierre Nzabahimana, a Rwanda-born man that recently decided to plant some seeds on a hill. It took a while but eventually last February he managed to harvest a more than decent amount of wheat.

His fields allows him to eat meat twice a month, he has a cow and around 180,000 Rwandan francs ($ 230) in his bank account. Even though he remains by all means below the poverty threshold, he can now look at the future. He would even like to open a shop in his village, one day. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rwandan farmers have produced 792,000+ tons of wheat in 2014 –  three times as much as what was produced in 2000 – while the production of corn, extremely important in West Africa, increased by seven times.

Between 2000 and 2014, cereal production in Ethiopia has tripled. The value of crops in Camerun, Ghana and Zambia has increased of at least the 50% in the past 10 years, with Kenya doing just as good.

Millions of African farmers like Mr Nzabahimana have managed to improve their economic conditions thanks to the increased popularity of hybrid seeds, which demonstrates how important biotechnologies are for the development of the agricultural sector in the Southern hemisphere.

At the moment, more than half of the workers located at south of the Sahara desert are employed in this sector, in Rwanda they make four-fifths of the total population. With such a high number of farmers, increasing agricultural production through biotechnologies is one of the most effective solutions to raise the living standards of the whole continent.

Governments and non-profit associations are rushing to teach farmers how to plant and grow these new seeds. In Rwanda, the One Acre Fund has provided its clients with seeds, fertilisers, know-how and, most importantly, credit. Hybrid seeds must in fact be bought every year due to the fact that the plants obtained from them will not necessarily produce the same kind of seeds.

These steps forward in what could be defined as a slow revolution in the African agricultural sector couldn’t be achieved without a drop in the number of conflicts affecting the territory. Between 1998 and 2014 the total number of wars in Sub-Saharan Africa has in fact decreased from 55 to 30. There’s still a lot of work to do, yes, but without a doubt we are on the right path.