Rethinking donations to Agriculture in Africa

If one starts reeling out the statistics of how important it is for Africa to start thinking of ways to feed its population, we would be completely absorbed by the exercise. Yet, one cannot but ask the question if we are really ready for this great task.

The population of Nigeria, ever growing, is estimated to hit about 450million by 2050, making the country by far the most populous in Africa and the 4th highest in the world, only behind India, China and the US. Governments have labored extensively to transform the Agricultural landscape, with the most recent effort led by the current president of the African Development Bank, Dr. Adewunmi Adesina. The strongest point in my opinion was trying to position Agriculture as a business and not some development venture where they need to continue to throw in donor money. Don’t get me wrong, we continue to need such efforts to develop this sector and I will explain why.

Think of the pharmaceutical sector! These companies spend so much money to develop new blockbuster drugs which are then patented to give them an opportunity to recoup their investment. This encourages them to continue to invest in developing drugs that will revolutionize the health sector. Otherwise, there will be no incentive for them to continue to invest in new breakthrough drugs. However, after developing these drugs, they market usually through the doctors and medical practitioners who recommend these drugs to the people.

In Agriculture, the leading companies invest so much to develop blockbuster inputs and usually patent them to also give them that same opportunity to recoup their investment to further encourage the spend. However, what is missing are those ‘medical doctors’ who will recommend these drugs (read inputs) to the farmers. Hence, a lot more needs to be spent to reach the farmers and do some development work which then makes the cost of the inputs prohibitive to the farmers, coupled with the poor yields, unpredictable weather, small land holding of farmers in this clime and limited knowledge of best practices.

What however needs to change about donor money is the mindset of the donors. They also need to start seeing Agriculture as a business and not just some development activities. With this mindset, they will also reorganize internally to challenge the recipients of the donations to seek profitability. And this will become a critical measure they track the projects they support. When farmers and other investors in the value chain make money, they will invest more and expand and hence attract more people to work in the sector. What scares more than feeding these 450million mouths, is not having a job for the more than 40% of that number that will be entering the workforce!!!

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