Agriculture remains the key sector in Africa for food security, employment and growth with agriculture-led growth having the largest impact on reducing the depth and breadth of poverty.
Ensuring that the world has enough to eat is a massive challenge. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that about 805-million people of the 7.3-billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment between 2012 and 2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791-million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5%, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties, with a third of all childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa caused by hunger.
“Agriculture is fundamental to our wellbeing, deserving of our respect and support. As consumers, we are all participants in a food chain that extends from seed, to shelf, to our kitchen table, and we all have a share in the future of agriculture,” says Bayer Southern Africa CEO and country divisional head
This is evidence that the quality production of food sources should be a top priority on the development agenda for Africa. While strides have been made, long-term investment into and commitment to local agricultural enterprises, both small and commercial, are essential to building supply chains for sustainable food sources that will meet demand and fulfill future export potential.
Eckstein notes, “To provide enough food for ourselves and our livestock well into the future, agriculture must become more efficient”. This will require sustainable intensification of agriculture: producing more food on less land in a more sustainable way. More production of food with increasingly scarce land and water resources will require innovative solutions from the private and the public sectors, considerable investments and political support.
Meanwhile improved cultivation methods, seeds tailored to local growing environments and judicious use of crop protection options become critical. The integrated approach has proven to work better than the current standalone solutions and will revolutionise agriculture even further, with the farms of today becoming the farms of the future.
This applies to large commercial farms, family, and smallholder farmers. It is well recognised the world over, and particularly in Africa, that small farmers not only provide for their families, but also contribute to feeding the population within their immediate surrounding communities. Eckstein notes that much greater use could be made of their potential in the microeconomic context and these small farmers should be supported, encouraged and – where needed – educated to think and act as entrepreneurs.
The effective and sustainable intensification of agriculture is paramount in eliminating hunger and increasing the continent’s food security. However, as with the rest of the continent, in South Africa, this will require embracing the interconnections and complexities of the country’s food systems and, constant collaboration between government, agricultural and science communities to cultivate solutions that will produce a sustainable supply of safe, nutritious and ample food for years to come.
“Farms and fields might have little relevance for us in our modern daily lives but the agricultural profession is fundamental to our wellbeing, and it is fundamental to addressing some of the greater challenges the global community faces today,” concludes Eckstein.