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Sustainable Agriculture

  Feb 24, 2012

By Esther Kanyi

Sustainability can be defined as – meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. When it comes to agriculture, sustainability is a core issue that needs to be taken care of. Sustainable agriculture entails the practice of farming using techniques and methods that will last over a long period of time without compromising environmental quality and natural resources. Sustainable agriculture strategies should ensure economic profitability, it should enhance the quality of life of farmers and the society as a whole; in addition it should make the most efficient use of non – renewable resources. In addition to strategies for preserving natural resources and changing production practices, sustainable agriculture requires a commitment to changing public policies, economic institutions, and social values.

Agriculture extends far beyond the farm and involves the interaction of individuals and institutions with contrasting and often competing goals including farmers, researchers, input suppliers, farm workers, unions, farm advisors, processors, retailers, consumers, and policymakers. Relationships among these actors shift over time as new technologies initiate economic, social and political changes. Thus in the recent past a broader term that captures the extension of ‘food systems’ has been introduced and its gaining more popularity as a way of commercializing Agriculture, this term is Agribusiness. Agribusiness involves the field of food productivity, farming contracts, seed supply, agrichemicals, farming machinery, wholesale and distributing, processing, marketing and not limited to retail sales of agricultural products. Agribusiness has become the subject of many economies around the world and is quickly transforming out-dated agricultural practices into successful commercial businesses. As a result of increase in commercialization, most businesses are now vulnerable to under-selling of their products at low prices due to lack of market availability. This leads to lesser capital formation, declining business opportunities, poverty, unemployment and ultimately, distress in the economy. This phenomenon has been witnessed all over the world and more so in African countries. We have had many cases of food insecurity and unemployment caused by drastic failure in food produce in Africa. Based on the capabilities we have as a continent we need to look for solutions that can take us to higher level of food security. Specifically we have to identify what we have been doing wrong and take measures to correct it. We must also identify untapped ventures in agriculture and work towards processing and marketing our products locally and internationally.

Is Agribusiness the Way Forward for Africa?

Agricultural development is a necessary precondition for economic development to many countries in the world including a big percentage of African Countries. Through Agriculture Africa will benefit directly from it without major interference unlike our vulnerability when it comes to export of minerals. Reason being, through food security our people will be healthy and able to take care of themselves, through agriculture we will be able to create direct employment and curb poverty.

Besides, there are a few issues that need to be addressed for the continent to compete with other countries in Agribusiness. First we must strive to move from small scale food production to large scale where possible; from food production we must expand to Agro – processing (the art of turning primary agricultural products or crops into secondary goods for sale). For example, as the concern over global warming intensifies, bio fuels derived from food crops are becoming popular; this is a market Africans can tap. Other ventures include Leather, Cotton, Insecticide, Rubber and Cocoa manufacturing among others. For so many years we have been exporting our raw materials and in return import them as finished products purchasing then at double the price. It is high time we move from simple to high- tech business in Agriculture; we have the resources and the capabilities to manufacture.

Most farmers in Africa practice subsistence farming, and are heavily depended on seasonal weather to cultivate their lands. With the dangers of global warming and the needs of a growing population, governments should encourage green agriculture to help reduce poverty through increased yields and creation of new green jobs especially in the rural areas. Green agriculture will also ensure food security on a sustainable basis and will significantly reduce environmental and economic costs of Agriculture. It is a cheap way of farming as it reduces soil erosion and chemical pollution in addition it restores and maintains the fertility of the soil, thus very applicable to the continent.

In conclusion, for agribusiness to be successful national and international policies are vital in ensuring the environment to do business is conducive. At a national level accessibility to credit extension for small scale farmers, price control policies for products, and frequent training of farmers on new technology and new practices should be given priority. Research also plays a vital role in identifying what a country can invest in. Agriculture research plays a key role in increasing production by carrying our research on the local and global market, research on type of soil conducive for different crops, research on biotechnology among others. This if taken keenly by governments, will create avenues for improvement in the agribusiness sector. Above all governments should strive to reduce on imports and instead become export oriented in order to grow the industries and agriculture economy in Africa.

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