Is development in Africa a cause of famine?

The cows came home the other evening whilst preparing for a presentation. It suddenly dawned on me that what I had been trying to articulate for years was staring me in the face. It’s simple really. Imagine this……….you need a bus driver to carry commuters from A to B. Which of the two senario’s would you follow…..pick a guy off the street and give him a set of bus keys and a map….no , forget the map, just the keys……….or ……look for a guy who could drive and failing to find any, get someone trained tested and approved before giving him a map from A to B and letting him take charge of your bus.

Supposing we went with the first option. Imagine the chaos, the risk and the failure of anyone in getting from A to B alive let alone on time. No one in their right mind would do this. And possibly few who were mindless too. Yet, this in a nut shell is why we suffer from famine in much of Africa.

It all stems around the fact that a) We have been lucky and b) We have misappropriated the word ‘farmer’ or rather , perhaps confused ourselves (as well as development agencies) into believing we are a continent of farmers.

We have been lucky for many reasons
1. Our continent lies in a strategic zone, enabling us to grow crops most months of the year
2. We have had an abundance of rainfall
3. Parts of our continent have super soils
4. We have alot of labor

Misappropriating the term ‘farmer’.
The ‘farmers’ in most of the developing world are like the unskilled bus driver in my earlier analogy. In Africa we define a farmer as being someone who works the land to produce agri products. In most parts of Europe the term used is ‘Field hand’.

A farmer in most of Europe is defined as a person who has been trained, is armed with a certificate of sorts and can use this to leverage benefits from their Government. Subsidies etc. Their Governments invest in them as they are the food producers for the nation. And if they were to disappear what then? They are assets to the country.

How many farmers in Africa are trained? If we have had any training at all it is at the agro dealer shop where we buy our inputs. We are given seed, the fertilizers to grow them with, and the pesticides to kill the bugs that feast on our crops. But how many of us know more than that? About the workings of the crops, the needs, how to identify the problems they have. How many of us know about the soils?

Back to my earlier analogy, if the unskilled and skilled bus drivers have no idea how to change tyres or do basic maintenance on the bus they drive, they will always have to have a mechanic either on board or on stand by. Another expense. In our AFrican agriculture, this mechanic is the agro dealer, who may or may not be a practitioner but who will definitely sell you something. It’s in his interest.

As for our Governments, we have been lucky to a degree in that with the little skills we have we have managed to feed our nations in the past however, as our countries ‘develop’ farmers are downing their tools and joining the ‘real work’ train. It’s logical, given the option of breaking your back in the hot sun, playing russian roulette with your life based on the changing weather patterns, taking risk after risk after risk……..or the option of a ‘job’, any job that is less arduous, what would YOU choose? Farming in Africa as it stands today is possibly the hardest job on the planet, and the riskiest too.

It’s no wonder farming is failing in Africa. We’re not really farmers after all. We are survivors. Largely depending on ‘shauri ya mungu’ (the will of God) and our mechanics, the agro dealers.
And if we are given another option to survive, we will jump at it. So in a nutshell development on the one hand is perhaps causing famine as ‘farmers’ flock to the ever growing towns and cities funnily enough, in search of greener pastures ( that inevitably turn out to be concreted chaotic jungles).

Now that I feel we have a root to the problem, what can be done to turn it around? How do we make farming sexier, less risky, and something people want to do rather than wish to get away from?

Next post coming up. I have an idea

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