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Agriculture in Africa: Blessing or Bane?

I write about Africa because it is my native land, where I have spent the most years of my life, and a place that I believe requires significant attention. And who better to advocate on her behalf than an indigene herself. My thinking hasn't always been this way, I must admit: in the not so distant past, I was just as ambivalent about Africa as the next person - being aware of all the issues that surround it, but aligning with the all-too-convenient notion of our helplessness in being able to fix the continent's woes.

All of this changed, however, when I had the opportunity to spend some time in another Sub-Saharan country, apart from my own, and I became suddenly overwhelmed with the realization of how far my own nation of Ghana had come throughout the years. Feelings of ambivalence turned into automatic feelings of pride and I realized just how much we take our progress for granted on a routine basis. Whereas, in my humble opinion, Ghanaians can sometimes get pretty incensed over very trivial matters, without the associated and requisite resolve to take more concrete steps in addressing the situation, here were other countries in the region looking upon us as some kind of stellar example and beacon of hope. The question we must thus ask ourselves in Ghana, or in any similar country, is whether we are living in the glow of a former glory or whether we are truly keeping up with the times. Yes, there is a place for critique; but critique without the willpower and patience to ensure that real action is taken or real change happens is not quite worthwhile.

A notable area for consideration is the field of agriculture. It is one of the key sectors in Africa as the majority of the population have their livelihoods tied to it. Moreover, the region is home to approximately 60% of the world's uncultivated arable land. Hold on...wait a minute! Is this a good or a bad thing? On one end, this fact shows the immense opportunity that exists in the region, but, sadly, it also reflects the largely untapped potential that exists. A lot of these lands are mired in land rights disputes and are difficult to access. The low levels of mechanization and irrigation techniques in the Sub-Saharan region especially do not help the situation. Our inability to adequately and appropriately upskill and add value in the sector makes it unsurprising that the vast majority of workers in this sector, though a larger proportion of the entire population, are still considered relatively poor.

Times are a-changing, nevertheless, and there is a lot we, as individuals, can do to help facilitate this change. More and more young people, especially with engineering and higher-level technical backgrounds, are entering the agribusiness space, thereby tackling both rural and youth unemployment at once, as well as addressing sustainability within a sector that is predominantly manned by an ageing population. I recently read a feature article on an indigenous ag-tech business called Complete Farmer and latched onto a quote made by the CEO, Desmond Koney, about anybody having the privilege to eat needing to be responsible about producing food (or at least being interested in how food is produced). What's even cooler is to see how this new breed of passionate entrepreneurs and their businesses are introducing technologies such as blockchain and Artificial Intelligence to provide predictive analytics to the sector and to create a more stable environment for growth. The least we can do is to get behind some of these entrepreneurs and businesses by supporting the work they are doing.

It doesn't take too much to patronize these services and to purchase an indigenous product or service once in a while. Sub-Saharan Africa, from initially being one of the top exporters of agricultural products has sadly become a net importer. This is a big shame for a continent that is so rich in natural resources. Our need to cultivate our lands, improve our value chains and 'grow' our own food and products becomes even more so important as the population of Africa is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050 and the demand for food will undoubtedly rise as well. Sufficient buffers are needed to ensure that the region can be food secure for our time and for generations to come. So the next time you have to make a purchase of food, clothing or supplies, be intentional about items you choose. A little act can go a long way for us all to truly appreciate one of the things we so love about the continent of Africa - it's natural environment - as the blessing it was always meant to be.

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