Southern Africa needs agribiz sector boost

Southern Africa is reeling under an unprecedented dry spell. The region’s worst drought in over three decades has unleashed a severe hunger crisis. It is also taking a huge toll on economy. Ethiopia will miss the targeted economic growth due to the agriculture mayhem, caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon. Food imports are stuck in port logjams and the prices of commodities are skyrocketing. South Africa is witnessing a parched weather never seen in decades. There has been scant rainfall that has hit its potato production. This has left potato costs hitting the roof. In Malawi, depleting grain supplies is making families skip meals to ration food. Food costs have doubled in Zimbabwe forcing it to declare national disaster and urging for an US$1.6-million aid from the United Nations. Of the 34 countries that will require food aid this year, 27 are in the African region, United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization records indicate.
As grain production in these countries continues to shrink, the struggle to grapple with economic costs will grow. And these will pile up as time elapses, leaving the population in more miserable conditions.
It is true that frequency and magnitude of natural hazard events can’t be controlled, but they can at least be mitigated. Why does southern Africa feel defenceless against disaster today? Because it didn’t have any disaster preparedness plan in place. And the governments are largely to be blamed for neglecting such an important aspect of governance. Agriculture decides the economic development of most countries in southern Africa. It is on it that the GDP of these nations depends. Yet, so little attention is being paid to it. That is the real tragedy.
What’s the way out? First and foremost, youth have to be roped in to ensure that the agriculture sector gets the right boost. Educational institutes that teach agriculture innovations will hold the key to make this happen. The draconian land tenure systems have to be abolished. Besides, finance to practice farming should not be a deterrent. Today, 65% of Africa’s population is below the age of 35. If they enter the farming sector, it will not only create jobs but generate income and alleviate poverty.
Most of the arable land in southern Africa remains unutilized. The barriers that prevent the farmers from using them have to be removed by the government. R&D made in agriculture has to reach the fields. Farmers need to be made aware of modern techniques that can help them grow crops intelligently and prudently. The money that these countries are spending on importing food can be pumped in sustainable farming techniques that reduce dependence on water-intensive crops.
Proper distribution of farm produce, marketing, processing and retailing will instill confidence in the farming community. When they feel assured, they will innovate and expand more. An efficient agribusiness sector will rake in revenues and more investments too. The public and private sector can collaborate in the infrastructure and bolster the growth. A proper policy to pull in investors is required. Political will to revolutionize the agriculture in southern Africa will ensure that natural hazard events and climate change fallout don’t leave a trail of damage that is difficult to undo.

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