Land Grabs Or Agricultural Development

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise that we cannot eat paper” Wolf Robe


VENTURES AFRICAWhen I was a kid, my grandfather always told me, “Always know your reality”. So my question around this train of thought is, ‘by then should you grasp what this reality is’? This would be critical, because if you know your reality and as soon as you do, a person of action will act accordingly.

Africa has experienced independence from colonialism for more than 60 years now. Only South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia enjoy infancy democracy. Their efforts towards economic prosperity can also be regarded as being in their infancy stages. Either that or we just don’t know what we are doing. Africa has the resources, especially land with some of the lowest agricultural production intensities considering we have 60 percent (uncultivated) of the world’s arable land.

Let me take the argument further. Post the Korean War, South Korea was literally one of the world’s poorest countries – with only $64 per capita income. By the 1960s it lagged behind the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Like Africa, South Korea also received aid from the US. But the difference? In less than 30 years, South Korea is a model for economic development globally, at an unprecedented level. For this period, South Korea received the same aid – $60 billion and for the same period $68 billion for Africa – as Africa and still receives the similar inflow.

Maybe I like arguing? Let us look deeper! South Korea has a population of what stands at approximately 50 million people. South Africa, who for the last 20 years has also enjoyed the same levels of aid, also has the same population size, give or take. South Africa though has minerals and natural resource that South Korea lacks, yet South Africa after a similar period, with similar aid funding patterns at every level cannot compete with South Korea on a performance barometer.

Africa as a continent should thus outperform South Korea, not only as the benchmark but also as a continent that has more at its disposal to become a continent with the largest middle-class, for one.

Now that we have the foundation out of the way, why is it that Africa after so many years of independence and 60 percent of the world’s arable land, holds 75 percent employment in agriculture (mostly female) and yet none of these woman own the land even though they physically produce through labour, more that 80 percent of agricultural products in Africa (WEF 2013, Cape Town).

Sometimes the delicate issues need to be dealt with. Is this the result of incompetence, political positioning (because poverty and hunger are political tools or suppressive mechanisms), is it lack of education at and within the echelons of the political corridors, can it be that African leaders are more in love the idea of prosperity for their people and what has really changed across the face of Africa, that African leaders themselves have brought to the table to make Africa an economic force? For now we won’t answer.

Some things Africa is considerably rich in, is; History, Wars, Political rhetoric (Meme), and Arable land – to feed ourselves.

Yesterday we dealt with a primary structural cause of unemployment in Africa, that being education. To this extent, Africa also has the lowest levels of advanced education programmes for agriculture and associated industries. Today, if you can start tech company with solid yields for investors of VC’s and angel funders, you are more likely to get equity investment than if you wanted to start a sustainable venture in agriculture that has long term yields and “feeds” the real needs to Africa, especially bringing down the cost of food to the African consumer. But our business executives in Africa and abroad, and certainly not our politicians have even scratched the surface when it comes to dealing with the issue.

We’ll take it a notch deeper. Do you know, the United State alone grocery stores discard $10-15 billion in food close to its sell-by date or “damaged”. Significantly, sell-by dates are a myth serving merely as a guide and measure optimal quality rather than food safety.

“In July 2013 the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Graziano da Silva, told participants at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) in Copenhagen that every year an estimated one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – around 1.3 billion tons. This costs around $750 billion per annum”. Astronomical given that per household it costs us more to throw away food than to take it with us the next morning and give it to the little kids standing at the robot! The values we have! Here is the next fragment to this argument – should such wastage of edible food be use to feed the poor, the extent and results of donor funding would be more significant! So much so, the United Kingdom is stopping aid to South Africa in 2015.

We are going to start rounding up our argument bearing in mind some reliable solutions we have at hand. However, these solutions we will not share. It does seem this will be pointless, given the amount of money spent of drafting legislation and policies to address – still no headway.

Striking at the heart now; the number of youth in Africa will double by 2045. Between 2000 and 2008, Africa’s working age population (15-64 years) grew from 443 million to 550 million; an increase of 25 percent – Africa Economic Outlook 2012. In Africa, there are at least 700 – 800 million unemployed people in Africa. Of the 600+ million working, 65 percent are in the agriculture sector – the most undeveloped across the continent.

Here is the fundamental reason why Africa has and is failing in agriculture – The World Bank is the single largest donor for improving Sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural sector, assistance that is key to reducing hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. So governments are not the major investors, proving my above argument, support by our findings that investors least consider the people with the skills – woman – who are already creating most of the value in the continents agriculture sector. – Surely, these very women can also be taught the inner dealings of managing a farm.

Finally, for how long while receiving international aid have we known “our” reality? Knowledge is power – it just depends for better or worse. Zimbabwe is a prime example that even education is no guarantee of leadership success, because it succumbs to the attraction of power. More than ever, no matter the leader, Africa’s history under its own leadership continues repeating itself – and the consequences become calamitous.

The DRC boasts 75 million to 80 million hectares of arable land that could feed a billion people, according to Thomas Kembola Kejuni, a former secretary general at the ministry of agriculture – only 10 percent of this potential is tilled.

For the last ten years, foreigners have been swooping up the arable land in Africa either through ownership or leasing negotiations. The most significant consistency in Africa has not been colonialism – its hunger. History and time, do not lie!

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