Sustainable farming has great potential in Africa. Why does it face so many roadblocks?
Africa has long been associated with currency devaluation, poverty, and food insecurity. However, there is a growing potential for the continent to transform its agricultural sector and achieve economic growth through regenerative agriculture practices.
This sustainable approach to farming improves soil health and reduces environmental impacts while producing food.
Practically speaking, regenerative agricultural practices include using natural inputs, such as compost and manure, instead of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. It also involves reducing tillage so as not to disturb soil too much and release carbon emissions and planting cover crops, which is useful to reduce soil erosion. Other methods include crop rotation and integrating livestock into cropping systems.
However, it is important to note that the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices requires a significant shift in mindset and practices, which will require training, education, and technical assistance to be successful.
Additionally, regenerative agriculture requires a long-term view, as the benefits of soil health improvement can take time to materialise, but the investment can provide significant economic returns over time.
However, despite the many benefits of regenerative agriculture, there are still significant challenges to overcome. One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of access to finance and markets for smallholder farmers. Many African farmers lack access to credit, making it difficult for them to invest in regenerative agriculture practices.
In addition, many farmers lack access to markets, which can make it difficult to sell their crops and earn a living.
To overcome these challenges, governments, NGOs, and industry can play an important role in providing financing and creating markets for regenerative agriculture products. This can include providing credit to smallholder farmers and investing in infrastructure to improve market access. Governments can also incentivise the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices through policy measures such as subsidies and tax incentives.
Another area where improvement is needed is the adoption rate of these sustainable farming practices. While many smallholder farmers in Africa already practice some form of regenerative agriculture, there is still a need for greater awareness and education on the benefits of regenerative agriculture and how to implement it effectively.
Governments and NGOs can help address this by providing training and technical assistance to farmers.
Finally, there is a need for greater research and development in regenerative agriculture in Africa. This can include developing new crop varieties that are better suited to regenerative agriculture practices, as well as developing new technologies and tools to support this farming method.
Governments and industry can play an important role in funding research and development for this purpose.
Africa, with the fastest-growing population in the world, holds great promise as a large, lucrative territory for global and African-based companies with aspirations to expand their footprint and open the employment basket. But it has become the fluid playing field for restrictive trade and rigid business models that haven’t yielded enough success.
The poorest people across various countries carry the heaviest burden and are spending more and more of their income on food, which has been observed in price hikes seen in basic commodities such as maise, bread and vegetable oil. Soaring costs will continue to create economic stagnation, boosting inflation and denting competitiveness with global powers, unfortunately, sending a supply chain shock that affects neighbouring African countries.
Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of regenerative agriculture in Africa are significant.
By improving soil health and increasing yields, regenerative agriculture can help increase agricultural productivity, which can in turn increase rural incomes and contribute to poverty reduction.
In addition, regenerative agriculture can create new economic opportunities by providing raw materials for new industries, such as the production of biofuels and bioplastics. The creation of these industries is also associated with new jobs.
According to the African Development Bank, the biofuels sector in Africa could create up to 880 000 jobs by 2030. Additionally, the economic benefits of restoring degraded land can range from $30 (~R550) to $700 (~ R12 800) per hectare per year, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Regenerative agriculture can also contribute to economic growth by reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. By sequestering or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, regenerative agriculture can help mitigate the impacts of climate change, which can have significant economic costs.
In addition, by reducing the need for expensive inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, regenerative agriculture can help reduce the costs of farming, making it more profitable for farmers.
The economic benefits of regenerative agriculture in Africa are significant and cannot be ignored.
By increasing farm profitability, creating new jobs and industries, and restoring degraded land, regenerative agriculture has the potential to contribute to economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.
As such, governments and other stakeholders should prioritise the adoption and promotion of regenerative agriculture practices in Africa to realise these benefits.
Luke Gomes is head of Nestlé’s Greater Zambezi & Zimbabwe Cluster.