Asiegbu Charles

The United Nations, in February 2017, officially declared a hunger emergency in South Sudan as drought, failed harvest, conflicts and displacements have led to increasing food insecurity . Official figures suggest that at least 1 in 5 households face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30%, with death rates recording two persons per day per 10,000 persons .

While the case with South Sudan is peculiarly extreme, it unveils the severe impact of food insecurity if left unchecked. Notwithstanding the arable and fertile land at its disposal, Africa grapples with meeting its food needs. A 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) contends that Africa is home to the second-largest number of the undernourished, with a whopping 250 million people. It further says that by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry .

To make matters worse, the growing concerns of food insecurity have intensified with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. Government protocols imposed to halt the spread of the virus has adversely affected Africa’s economies. Given these circumstances, this paper highlights the option of empowering smallholder farmers, utilizing smart and hybrid farming and irrigation, first as missing links, and then panaceas to bolster agriculture and guarantee food security in Africa.

Potentials to Unlock

In Tanzania, about 3.7 million smallholdings (those more petite than the middle-sized farm threshold of 2.2 hectares) make-up for 80% of total farms . Despite their critical position in ensuring food security, smallholder farmers in Africa have been primarily underused and ignored when, in the real sense, they are essential stakeholders of agriculture. The absence of policy and institutional support, inactive participation in international markets, rights to land and natural resources, lack of financial service and low support from extension services serve as impediments to harnessing their full potentials.

In the past, efforts to support smallholder farmers through a conventional integration pattern of the value chain have met brick walls. Only a small group of influential and perhaps prominent scale farmers are likely to benefit from opportunities created in this way . Smallholder farmers are susceptible to competition from larger-scale

producers. According to a study by Loeper, Drimie, and Blignaut (2018), they argue that Shoprite in South Africa procures 90% of its fresh fruits and vegetables from large-scale farmers. When small-scale farmers, especially women, require all the support to facilitate their greater participation in markets.

Smart farming is an emerging idea that is gradually infiltrating parts of Africa using IoT, robotics, drones and AI to increase the quantity and quality of products while optimizing the human labour required by production. There are currently intelligent farming tools like autonomous tractors that deliver a high tractive effort at slow tillage and other agricultural tasks. It uses GPS and wireless technologies to farmland without requiring a driver.

Also, aerial vehicles provide intelligent insights to farmers to manage pesticide use, increase crop yield, and boost profits. The use of drone technology in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa has overall improved security, productivity and help reduce escalating cost. Farmers use drones to do quick spot-checks on their farming operations without walking distances on foot to monitor their farms, usually located at hinterlands.

Hybrid crops result from the cross-pollination of plants to create an off-spring that contains the best traits of each of the parents. Hybrid plants have a faster growth rate and can record up to 25% higher yield, resistant to viruses, bacteria, and fungi (Kowalczyk, 2018. They are notable for their characteristics like efficient photosynthesis, plant nodules production, and increased ability to hold water.

Those who stand a chance to benefit most from hybrid or genetic modifications are low-income farmers in Africa, where fewer pest management options and crop vulnerability tend to be higher. A study to determine whether genetically modified crops benefit consumers through increased yields using maize showed that modified maize improved products by 8 per cent on average.

Irrigation does not play a significant role in African agriculture despite insufficient rainfall and a high droughts incidence. According to estimates, only 6% of the continent’s farmland is irrigated compared to 37 % in Asia. Fully tapping into this irrigation potential is essential for boosting the continent’s agricultural productivity, which is the lowest globally. Irrigation in Africa can improve agricultural production by at least 50%, protect against losses to variable rains and enable cultivation in dry seasons and high-value crops that consume water. Sadly, the area equipped for irrigation in Africa is slightly more than 13 million hectares. Turkana county in Kenya irrigates about 100 hectares of land and has the potential to expand. Each family farms about 0.2 hectares and produces between 400 and 600 kgs of maize, sorghums, cowpeas and groundnuts, twice a year.

Each family produces a harvest that is valued at around 50,000 Kenyan shillings (US$500) every year. These feats achieved through the Moruese Irrigation Scheme have enabled farmers to produce food even during the low rainfall seasons and serve as an example of the need for increased irrigation farming across Africa.

Putting Ideas To Work

Policymakers in Africa should collaborate with development partners to empower and train smallholder farmers whose farming approach is rudimentary – to achieve food sovereignty and economic prosperity. Policies targeted at safeguarding smallholdings’ interest, such as granting a percentage of agricultural exports and improving access to loans, will secure food production and reduce poverty.

Support for the law to award patent-like rights to hybrid and plant variety breeders in Africa will encourage quality, innovation, diversity of plants and protect intellectual property. The process being initiated in Nigeria and successfully implemented in Kenya should metamorphose into an African agenda.

Revisiting the 2003 Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) under the African Union Maputo Agreement would ensure Africa’s food supply. Implementing the pillars of land management, rural infrastructure, and technology is a sure way to realizing this strategy. The Heads of African governments should schedule an extraordinary meeting to evaluate their progress and revalidate their commitment to the cause.

Investments in irrigation and water management equipment like drip and sprinkler irrigation systems is a credible way of ending food shortages. These methods ensure that water is placed directly into the root zone to minimize evaporation. Again, agricultural practice in Africa has remained chiefly glued to inherited generational methods that slow production, while efficient innovations can increase productivity. Committing resources to science, research, and development is another approach that will ensure food sustainability.


Realizing Africa’s agricultural potential requires enormous investments in infrastructure and human resources. A strategic road map to upscaling food production in Africa is to make smallholder farmers the cornerstone of Africa’s agricultural programs. This strategy is not to downplay the importance of large-scale/medium-sized farmers. However, it aims to give small-scale farmers who are limited and make up the majority the support to increase production for their families and the world.

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