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Small-scale farmers hold key to growth of Africa’s economy 

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Yunia Nyamori weeds her farm in Nyando, Kisumu County on April 8, 2014. Smallholder farmers, most of them women in remote rural areas, produce most of the food that is consumed in Africa. Photo/TOM OTIENO

Yunia Nyamori weeds her farm in Nyando, Kisumu County on April 8, 2014. Smallholder farmers, most of them women in remote rural areas, produce most of the food that is consumed in Africa. Photo/TOM OTIENO 

By Jane Karuku

Posted  Tuesday, April 29   2014 at  11:08

In Summary

  • Africa’s smallholder farmers can be agriculture’s game changers of the 21st Century.
  • Up to 80 per cent of the food we eat in Africa is produced by smallholder farmers — people who tend crops and raise livestock on less than a hectare of land — and most of them are women.
  • Initiatives that enable African farmers to adapt to growing conditions rapidly being altered by climate change are critical.
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Africa’s ministers of agriculture are meeting in Addis Ababa this week to debate policies that will shape an agricultural market projected to be worth $1 trillion (Sh87 trillion) by 2030, three times its size in 2010.

We may argue that the market is beset by volatility and incoherence but one thing is certain: no one should underestimate Africa’s entrepreneurial drive or the potential of millions of its smallholder farmers to feed the continent and the world.

Africa’s smallholder farmers can be agriculture’s game changers of the 21st Century.

The numbers speak for themselves. Up to 80 per cent of the food we eat in Africa is produced by smallholder farmers — people who tend crops and raise livestock on less than a hectare of land — and most of them are women.

The reality is that the real output from this class of farmers remains far below their potential.

The fact is that when Africa’s farmers get hold of what their counterparts elsewhere in the world take for granted, they will rapidly catch up.

That means empowering them with access to finance, modern agricultural technologies, reliable markets and secure rights to their land, effective extension services and supportive policies.  

Initiatives that enable African farmers to adapt to growing conditions rapidly being altered by climate change are also critical.

Policymakers can further fuel Africa’s agricultural development by confronting the gender gap in agriculture and overcoming obstacles that limit the productivity of women farmers relative to men.

By putting these basic principles into practice, and forging strategic, well-considered partnerships, Africa’s smallholder farms can succeed as businesses connected to thriving local, regional and global markets.

The potential here is that the progress of Africa’s small scale farmers will infuse new energy into the global economy and make the continent’s rural economies thrive.

When Africa’s smallholder farmers prosper, the world will prosper. The alternative is grim. The reality is that half of population in Africa lives in extreme poverty with more than 60 per cent in remote rural areas where agriculture is the main economic activity.

This is unlikely to change any time soon, making the case for policies that will improve their lot.

Furthermore, between 2012 and 2050, population in most of sub-Saharan Africa will more than double, putting it at 11.3 times its 1950 level.

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