10 Facts About Farming in AfricaAfrica is home to 54 countries, with 36 percent of people living on less than one dollar a day. Farming is how a large majority of Africans feed their family and generate revenue. Although the sweeping plains of East and South Africa are abundant in natural resources, there are still high levels of poverty among farmers. These 10 facts about farming in Africa will explain why farmers in Africa fall below the international poverty level.

10 Facts About Farming in Africa

  1. The Sahara Desert is growing. A future threat to farmers is the Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert. While most deserts’ boundaries expand and contract seasonally, data collected over the past 100 years shows that the Sahara grew by at least 11 percent and now takes up 3.6 million square miles of Northern Africa. As the places where people farm grow drier, famine and drought become more of a risk.
  2. Sub-Saharan Africa contains 19 of the 25 poorest countries in the world. This includes the Central African Republic, which is nearly self-sufficient in crops but ranks as the poorest country in Africa (681 GDP) due to poor livestock quality. Overall, this “horn” of the African continent contains a population of 626 million people, and 384 million—or 61 percent—of them are farmers.
  3. Roughly 65 percent of Africa’s population relies on subsistence farming. Subsistence farming, or smallholder agriculture, is when one family grows only enough to feed themselves. Without much left for trade, the surplus is usually stored to last the family until the following harvest. While subsistence farming is appealing to rural farmers because it allows families to be self-sufficient, it is heavily susceptible to climate change and works best when there is no drought or flood, which usually isn’t the case.
  4. Farmers suffer from Africa’s loss of share in world trade. Unfortunately, there are higher trade taxes placed on the continent compared to other regions. This is due to roads that lead toward ports rather than other countries, as well as rigorous tariffs and inspection laws between borders. Working to boost intra-African trade, regional economic communities (RECs) face immense challenges and policymakers are focusing on RECs in order to increase regional integration.
  5. Africa’s common cash crops are cocoa, cotton and coffee. Initially, cocoa was as a smallholder crop but has grown in popularity due to global demand. Robusta is a typical coffee bean grown in Africa, commonly used for instant coffee. It faces competition with the higher quality Arabica beans exported from Asia and South America. Overall, the exposure of cash crops to the world market has expanded growth in Africa but also slowly eroded farmer incomes. Cash crop farmers receive very small proportions of the final traded price.
  6. Women make up the largest share of the agricultural labor force in Africa. Although they produce 80 percent of the continent’s food, they are excluded from determining agricultural policies and certain laws deprive them of their land and livelihood. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that if women were given the same access to productive resources as men, crop yield could be increased 20 to 30 percent—in turn, reducing the number of world hunger up to 17 percent.
  7. Africa has the largest number of child labor, and the agriculture sector accounts for most of it. In sub-Saharan Africa, child labor increased over the 2012 to 2016 period, in contrast to continued progress in the rest of the world. Most child labor is unpaid, going on in family farms and not between employment with a third-party.
  8. Countries with high child labor rates, like Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, also report high school attendance rates at 90 percent. Families that do subsistence farming anecdotally report high career aspirations for their children. The high child labor rates are not necessarily an alternative to school, but an act performed for the necessary family income that leads to subsistence and high attendance rates. In a sense, child work often contributes to improving the family farm that they may eventually inherit.
  9. Focus on agribusiness can help improve the lives of farmers. The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) promotes a focus on the chain of process: land tenure, farming technology, markets and pricing. Agribusiness also involves technology, such as mobile apps used as a means to reach farmers and track data on land conditions. By turning farming into an entrepreneurial endeavor, agribusiness could create the mass number of jobs needed for Africa’s youth.
  10. By increasing local production of chemical fertilizers, the lives of African farmers could improve. Globally, Africa consumes only one percent of fertilizer and produces even less. With high costs and short supply, African farmers pay up to six times the average price for fertilizer. If a farmer is living on one dollar a day, imported fertilizer is unaffordable. Increasing local production of fertilizer would reduce costs and shorten the supply chain to farmers.

Improving the lives of African farmers is possible through education and outside funding. USAID can focus on improving transportation networks for rural areas, as well as expanding the infrastructure of suppliers and markets. Through gender-equalizing laws and lowering tariffs, African farmers can also increase their benefits from their work. These 10 facts about farming in Africa show that African farmers make up a large majority of the world’s poor, and there is much to be done when it comes to improving their future.

– Isadora Savage
Photo: Flickr

Subsistence Farming
Many of the refugees who settle in the United States come from places of conflict and extreme poverty. Few have learned to read and write in English. Their skills are tailored to the situation in their homeland. Among the Bhutanese, Congolese, Burundi, Nepali and Somali communities, the skill these refugees have best honed is farming.

In an interview with the NY Times, Somali Ibrahim Sawarah Dehab says, “In America, you need experience.” Without the training to take up work in a drastically different society, and without the language resources to learn, refugees have difficulty supporting themselves and their families.

However, subsistence farming can have financial benefits for those who practice it. The surplus of many small farms sell for $5,000 to $50,000 dollars annually.

Subsistence farming is not a final solution for the economic hardship refugees face. Certainly, the revenues are inadequate for a family. But farming has other benefits besides finances, including fresh vegetables, fruit and meat.

Fast food is the cheapest source of calories in the U.S. Poor families must often sustain themselves on the grease and preservative-soaked contents of the restaurant dollar menus. By growing their own produce, however, refugee families provide themselves with nutritious meals at virtually no monetary cost.

Farms provide psychological benefits as well. Uprooted from their homes, refugees are perhaps more in need of a community than most. Language barriers, combined with jarring cultural differences, severely limit the connections they can make.

If they settle in refugee communities, the opportunity to find people with similar experiences and languages skyrockets. This is much better on joint farms, where resettled people can work together growing and herding. These farms foster a sense of purpose in the farmers. In order to sell, they have to venture out, establishing a presence and becoming familiar with the greater community.

Getting would-be farmers on their feet falls to organizations like the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots and New Land Farms programs. The latter was founded in 2008 as a branch of the Lutheran Social Services group of New England. The organization funds community gardens in Westfield, Springfield, West Springfield and Worcester, where refugees–most from Iraq, Burundi and Bhutan–can grow produce for their families.

Refugees who want to farm alone or communally have their choice of plots from two different New Land Farm sites. They are given seeds, equipment and everything necessary to begin planting. Those who would like to work in agriculture but have no farm experience are trained.

Subsistence farming among refugees speeds the process of integration. According Dehab, now owner of a successful meat farm, “In America, you need experience, and my experience is goats.”

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: New York Times, Relief Web
Photo: New York Times

10 Ways to Help Poor Farmers and Their CommunitiesFood is one of the most basic human rights and needs: without adequate, nutritious food, people are unable to work and, in some cases, live. Almost a billion people in the world today are chronically undernourished, and many more are food insecure, meaning that they do not know where their next meal will come from. About three-quarters of those in Africa that live off of $1 a day are subsistence farmers. Helping subsistence farmers grow more food is key to lifting rural communities out of poverty. The following are some of the methods the Millennium Villages Project uses to help poor farmers, in its pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa. Here are 10 ways to help poor farmers.

10 Ways to Help Poor Farmers and Their Communities

1) Protect and preserve the natural environment: Without a healthy natural environment where native flora and fauna live productively, long-term sustainable agricultural practices will fail. Farms must be developed in conjunction and cooperation with local ecology, not at its expense.

2) Implement community – specific programs: Every region has unique characteristics and therefore unique needs. Individualized programs that meet the needs of specific regions are more likely to succeed. This is the approach used by the Millennium Villages Project.

3) Teach and implement sustainable farming techniques: Farming techniques such as agroforestry, organic agriculture, and permaculture are more sustainable and practical on a small, rural scale. Poor farmers need to learn about these techniques and have access to the resources they need in order to implement them.

4) Build and maintain soil productivity: Healthy soil is the foundation of a healthy farm and leads to increased crop yields. Rebuilding soil after intensive cultivation is necessary to maintain soil productivity. Essential soil nutrients can be replenished through techniques such as fertilization, composting, inter-planting, and crop and field rotation.

5) Sustainable water access: A consistent water source is necessary for growing crops and for human survival. Rainwater harvesting systems and wells can provide water to a community, while drip irrigation systems give farmers access to water for their crops.

6) Increase sustainable crop production: Increasing crop yields is important to improving food security and fighting undernourishment. Farmers need access to high-quality seeds of appropriate crops, as well as information about planting, growing, harvesting, and crop management.

7) Economic organization: Farmers need a way to connect with customers in nearby communities in order to sell their products. Additionally, small-scale farmers can benefit from farmer cooperatives, wherein all the farmers in a community combine their resources in order to receive a better price for their crops. Aid organizations need to invest in the infrastructure and education necessary to create viable economic systems for farmers.

8) Supplement programs for newborns and their mothers: Even with an adequate food supply, pregnant and nursing mothers and their young children have unique nutritional needs. They need more protein, folate, calcium, and iron, as well as more calories.

9) End subsidies to wealthy US farmers: One Oxfam study showed that ending subsidies to wealthy US cotton farmers would do more to help Africa’s poor than the amount of aid they receive now. Farm subsidies drive down the prices of US-grown crops, making it impossible for small-scale farmers abroad to compete.

10) Improve food security: This means making sure that everyone in the community, including farmers, consistently has adequate calories and nutrition. Food security can be improved in many ways, including building food storage facilities, providing access to fuel-efficient cookstoves, and sourcing food locally, just to name a few.

Kat Henrichs

Sources: Borgen Project