Without use of technology, farmers in Africa will remain poor

Posted on December 30, 2013 12:10 am

Researchers say that Uganda agriculture potential if fully exploited is enough to feed the entire sub Saharan Africa current population for the next half a century but that for now is just all illusion. That is just an example of how lack of modern farming technologies and failure to embrace genetically modified crops has impoverished African farmers for decades and studies have shown that more than half of them have never made any profit from their farming efforts. The low level of agricultural modernization in sub Saharan Africa has resulted from low level of industrialization and the disconnection between the two and to date no country including South Africa, the most sophisticated and largest economy. For many decades, African governments have undertaken enormous and numerous programs to develop and sustain productivity but the same cannot be said when it comes to industrialization that has failed to take off in much of the continent with exception South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. The rest are wanna be industrialized countries and have nothing to brag about beyond light industries.

Governments can start by identifying the small to medium sized manufacturers that can buy raw farm produce and they invest in machinery to create value addition. East African governments have adequate resources to help young and new manufacturers to expand and produce. Such initiatives could help improve quality so that more farmers in the region are be able to mechanize their activities, from farming fields preparation to after harvest operations. An elderly East African I spoke to a couple of months ago narrated to me how the original East African Community countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda crafted policies that were meant to reduce reliability on imported goods and food in late 60s and early 70s, under which industries were to be established to manufacture products and eventually replace imports. However, political turmoil in Uganda and socialism in Tanzania meant that only Kenya embraced the idea fully courtesy of its capitalist founding and pro western countries president Jomo Kenyatta. Some Kenyan companies succeeded, and have been able to compete with foreign manufacturers up to this day and that is why is the region’s largest economy.

During the early seventies up to the early eighties, Tanzanian government pursued several socialist type of industries to speed up the country’s ascent to industrial status the then President Julius Nyerere a revered figure in a country of 45 million people failed to take off for what post Nyerere era analysts claim was misinformed priorities. Tanzania was known towards the communism during the cold war while its northern neighbor Kenya was pro-western countries and capitalist economy, a trend that has continued to this day where free market has total support of country’s estimated 39 million people. Many industries have since been established in East African countries, but the disconnection with agriculture has largely remained. A good example was the automotive industry. Kenya’s infamous national car project was approved by its then President Daniel Moi in late 80s according to Kenya at 50 records released few weeks ago, and the first locally built car, the Uhuru, was launched only in early 90s. The car is non-existent and few under 20 Kenyans know about it and today, the car industry in Kenya is said to remain as an assembly operation, with most of the major components like engines supplied by foreign producers and put together in local facilities.

That’s just one of prime examples of how countries in Africa have failed to master the art of industrialization. For famers to enjoy benefits, the region should industrialized their economies and also modernized their agriculture sectors, which will help play a significant role in the region’s economies for generations to come. Contador Harrison thinks that unless Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya the three largest economies in the region start producing their own brand of farm products starting with those that require less technological sophistication than heavy industries a majority of farmers will lifted from abject poverty. I disagree with those who say that refined products market in East Africa is too small to make the region a manufacturing hub. Their argument has been that only a small portion of the population can afford to buy quality goods. Only insane minds and those who have never been to the three countries can utter such nonsense. The purchasing power of three countries combined is stronger than Nigeria or South Africa.

In Kenya alone, a recent research showed that Kenya youths aged below 23 spend $3 billion on leisure alone per annum and in South Africa its $4 billion and in Nigeria its $5.5 billion. For example, Kenya has the most successful cooperative sector in Africa with an annual revenue of $6billion where millions of farmers, grouped into a cooperative, can own an account and share of the cooperative organization they belong to and it extends from coffee, tea, pyrethrum etc but that has not translated in rich famers with exception of a few. One can only hope that regional planners and technocrats will consider eliminating the disconnection between industrialization and agricultural modernization, and come up with a plan that establishes strong ties between the two sectors otherwise supermarkets in Kampala, Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam will continue to import apples, oranges, Mangoes, grapes, Berries, Pineapples and the list is endless. I just wish measures could be co-opted in efforts to push mechanization of the agriculture sector so that it benefit farmers which would greatly reduce poverty levels and increase Gross Domestic Product for the region.

Contador Harrison