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Agriculture, Key to Africa’s Quest for Continued Growth and Sustainability

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Africa cannot achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture without engaging and building the capacity of its smallholder farmers.

This was the submission of Venkataramani Srivathsan, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Olam Africa, the Middle East and North America regions, who spoke during a panel discussion on a BBC agro webinar event tagged ‘Agriculture – Africa’s Future’, held on Tuesday, June 8, 2021.

According to Venkataramani Srivathsan, providing training and financing opportunities for the 80 million small-scale farmers on the continent would boost food security, food safety and job creation in the agro value chain.

He said, “The COVID-19 outbreak was a setback for the African continent. The global health crisis took its toll on the continent’s food supply value chain thereby disrupting vital agro activities which led to the escalated level of food insecurity.”

He added that effective capacity-building efforts, access to revenue-boosting agro-technology, the assembly of robust irrigation infrastructure and the implementation of an effective micro-financing framework were necessary to help African smallholder farmers scale their operations, encourage massive youth participation in Agriculture and drive food security on the continent.

“Olam works with 2.5 million smallholder farmers in Africa and is investing to assist them in creating wealth for their communities and respective economies at large. We invest in research to make high yielding seed available to the farmers.

“We are also tapping our global expertise in the agro value-chain to help the farmers adopt modern agro practices while extending loans to them through our participation in various anchor borrowers and out-growers initiatives across the continent”, Venkataramani Srivathsan said.

Olam is a leading agribusiness conglomerate which supplies crops, ingredients and packaged foods to the global market. It is actively involved in supporting the African continent build self-sufficiency in food production by investing extensively in various wheat, rice, dairy, maize, tomato, hatchery and poultry, and animal feed production development programmes on the continent.

The BBC regional agriculture development webinar, therefore, engaged the agribusiness firm as one of several key players on the continent’s agro value chain, to discuss how to stimulate growth and ensure sustainability in food production in Africa. This engagement aims to guarantee food security, employment generation and foster agro-based economies on the continent.

Besides Venkataramani Srivathsan, other panellists who featured on the webinar were Damian Ihedioha, Division Manager, Agribusiness Development Division, African Development Bank (ADB), Hon. Beauty Manake, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Agricultural Development & Food Security, Botswana; Dr Kulani Machaba, Regulatory Affairs Leader, Africa & Middle East, Corteva Agriscience and Amrote Abdella, Regional Director, Microsoft 4Afrika. Zeinab Badawi, BBC World News presenter moderated the panel.

Damian Ihedioha, Division Manager, Agribusiness Development Division, African Development Bank (ADB) posited that a vibrant African SME ecosystem was germane to enhancing the continent’s food supply chain. He called on policymakers across the continent to invest in building capacity along the agro value chain by strengthening the SME ecosystem and incentivizing youth participation in agriculture.

Beauty Manake, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Agricultural Development & Food Security, Botswana, highlighted the importance of intra African trades in stimulating growth in the agro value chain and reducing the escalating levels of reliance on food importation from other continents.

She said, “Africa does not trade with itself. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, farm produce that couldn’t be transported to their destination market overseas got spoilt. Hence, by building a framework policy that encourages intra Africa trading and developing local infrastructure that ensures food is smoothly delivered to the last mile from the farms, the agro landscape in Africa will explode.”

She further advised governments on the continent to build agricultural villages and provide vital market linkages for smallholder farmers to sell their produce.

Meanwhile, Dr Kulani Machaba, Regulatory Affairs Leader, Africa & Middle East, Corteva Agriscience, emphasized constant access to farming inputs and maximal utilization of high-yielding seed varieties by farmers as key to stimulating growth in the continent’s agro value chain.

He explained, “Rice seed varieties harvest yield in Africa is 2 tons per hectare, 4 tons per hectare in Asia and 10 tons per hectare in Latin America. While each continent has access to high-yielding seed varieties, the difference is how farmers in each clime maximize the cultivation of the seed varieties.”

He also mentioned that policymakers need to create a conducive operating environment for private investors to participate effectively in developing the agro value chain.

Amrote Abdella, Regional Director, Microsoft 4Afrika, advocated the wider adoption of science and technology to boost access to farming and market data.

According to her, “Lack of access to data impedes growth in the agro sector. Farmers and policymakers need constant access to information that highlights what is being produced on the farmlands and what the market demands are to understand development along the value chain and proffer solutions where necessary.”

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