Economy

A look at how African farmers developed agriculture and tackled challenges in 2018

In 2018, an increasing number of African farmers took advantage of opportunities to unlock the potential of agribusiness on the continent.

SHOWS: MULANJE, MALAWI (REUTERS) – 

2018 was a year that saw African farmers were pushed to increase productivity through use of modern farm practices and finding innovative ways to farm in the face of challenges, such as climate change and access to finance.

In Malawi, farmers intervened with home-made repellents as pests, drought threatened maize crop.

Farmers took matters int their own hands and decided to use home-made concoctions to control armyworms that have infested fields, after ordinary pesticides failed to work.

The army warm, a crop-munching pest often burrows into plants limiting chemical contact, which enables them to easily build resistance.

A dry spell in the country had also been made worse by the armyworms which infested over 200,000 hectares of maize.

Farmers like Jessy and James Kanjala say they were able to repel armyworms that invaded their three-acre farm with a solution of water, pounded chilli pepper and salt.

“With this local concoction the fall armyworms are dying instantly. As such, if all the farming families were to adopt this local pesticide, we can rescue the remaining crop in the field and in doing so farmers would have some harvest,” said James Kanjala.

In Uganda, farmers were busy experimenting with breeding insects for livestock feed. Farmers say using insects as livestock feed to enable them find more nutritious protein alternatives for their animals.

Breeding insects like maggots and earthworms also takes up little space according to scientists who say rising production of livestock feed such as soy gobbles up more and more valuable agricultural land.

“The purpose of this project is to replace or substitute fish meal. Because what fish meal is providing, that is protein is what we are intending to be substituting, not maize bran, maize bran will still stay in its same potion because it provides something else which is energy, carbohydrates and calcium what – what — will still stay in same proportion,” said insect breeder Joan Nayikemba.

Meanwhile, falling global commodity prices such coffee and cotton forced many farmers in Ethiopia to turn to farming khat, as falling prices put a squeeze on their profits.

Khat, also known as qat or Miraa is a flowering plant native to east Africa. It contains cathinone, an amphetamine-like ingredient making it a popular form of stimulant.

Khat users describe a mildly euphoric feeling when they chew leaves from the plant over a period of several hours. It is also moderately addictive and in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Kenya chewing has become an ingrained part of many people’s lives, particularly men.

The high demand for khat, which is illegal to chew in many countries but not in the Horn of Africa, has made it an increasingly profitable option for farmers.

“Khat is more useful to the farmer than coffee. Coffee comes only once a year. But you can harvest Khat twice a year. We harvest two times in a year. But in the case of coffee, you don’t see it molre than once in a year. Khat is much more useful,” said Khat farmer Jema Moussa.

Falling global prices of cotton, as well as bad weather had a major impact on Burkina Faso’s farmers.

Cotton production in Burkina Faso has been on the decline since 2017, due to a variety of factors including pest attacks, poor rain fall, as well as a decision by the government to phase out the production of genetically modified or GMO cotton seeds.

From 2008, after seeing their crops ravaged by the bollworm, cotton growers in Burkina Faso began using a pest-resistant cotton variety, first introduced in the US, through a partnership with U.S. agro-chemical giant Monsanto.

The crop grew pest-free. But there was a problem. The quality had dropped significantly.

And that meant prized Burkina cotton lost its premium pricing.

In December 2016, the Burkina-Monsanto partnership ended, with Monsanto writing off Burkina’s more than 19 million dollar debt.

Bukinabe farmers have gone back to their old ways, but many cotton growers say they are yet to see their yields increase.

“Cotton producers are worried and anxious about the future. Those of use who depend on rainfed agriculture, the anxiety is there. Because we are not sure if there will more rain or less rain, we are really exposed by this problem,” said farmer Mathieu Idogo.

In nearby Nigeria, technology companies looked at new ways to revolutionalise agriculture, using a combination of peer-to-peer lending and a stream of videos and photographs of the type typically seen in crowdfunding campaigns, to connect local farmers and investors.

Nigerian farmers have for decades faced an array of challenges, from a lack of access to electricity to regulate irrigation to an ailing road network to transport produce from farms. As a result, most of Nigeria’s tens of millions of farmers work on a subsistence basis and live on less than $2 a day.

Two local technology firms – Farmcrowdy and Thrive Agric – offered the ability to help farmers to scale up their businesses by connecting them with investors.

“One of the primary challenges we were trying to solve was to solve the problem of access to funds for farmers, giving them the right expertise for them to grow right and also connect and link them to markets. So, so far we have been able to do an effective collaboration here in Nigeria with the right companies,” said Thrive Agric Chief Executive, Uka Eje.

Eje said some $2.7 million had been raised by 1,670 investors for nearly 10,000 farmers since the company’s launch in 2017.

Nigeria’s central bank also announced this year that it was working on plans to have banks offer more agricultural loans to farmers.

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