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On a serious note, can African farming produce billionaires?

AT one time, Mr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), was quoted to have “prophesied” that “the future billionaires and millionaires will make their money from agriculture”.

Now before proceeding, it is good to make it clear that no man of the sane mind will understate Mr Adesina’s ingenuity exhibited in all his capacities, first as Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture and currently as AfDB president. Certainly, the recent exoneration by the independent inquiry panel at the continental bank, dashes all the doubts of whether the Nobel laureate’s moral compass has been corrupted. 

Nonetheless, for anyone with first – hand experience with African agricultural settings won’t be completely wrong to equate Mr Adesina’s ‘motivational’ collection of words with fantasy, because, usually, it is easier said than done.

Where is the problem then?   

The question is difficult than what many people thinks and solution may be hard to come by if the depth of problem is not recognized, and probably this piece of an essay may not provide all the answers, won’t even trying to create such an impression.

Tanzania is a home to nearly 65 per cent of its population as farmers whose hard work sways 27 per cent of an economy while feeding an entire country’s and continent’s population, nourishing parts of Asia, Europe and America. Opposite is true to United States of America.

In the US, only 2 per cent of the population is into Agriculture and its farmers are feeding their population and exporting a huge chunk of the remainder. A situation is similar with European farmers.  

This experience has been in place for ages, however, in spite of all those 'achievements' why majority of Tanzanian farmers are still struggling to make their ends meet when their counterparts in the U.S and Europe are featuring as one of the richest people?

Annually, U.S spends 20 billion US dollars on subsidies for farm businesses mainly going to producers of maize, wheat, soybeans, cotton, and rice. With all that threatening figures, it is just a one – third of what EU offers to her farmers every year.

In that situation, one doesn’t need to crack her head thinking why as a continent we still pay them nearly 40 billion US dollars every year in exchange for food they produce so we can survive. It is simple, they do invest.

In late nineties, when Africa was finally getting free from civil wars and decolonization, a call to heavily invest in agriculture was audible than ever. And Tanzania, being the hotbed of continental liberation movements was now relieved of many of its duties and started refocusing on her internal economy, and that call was more than welcomed in the country too.

But after crossing the new millennium, we began the journey with a very wrong footing. We sat back and waited for the rich men to “relocate” from their industries to agricultural sector. This seemed to register early victories as the henchmen in mining, construction, transport and technology industries started to sell their multinational companies and invested in agriculture.

The famous examples are South African Nicholaus Oppenheimer who sold his De Beers Diamond mining before venturing into agriculture and Aliko Dangote who had extension to the sector too.

Years have passed now and if one is asking for results, just direct him on the importation bill.

Bringing desired results to the African farming is a hard thing. And hard matters are always hard, any decision to find quick – fix answers may not give as intended outcomes.

Fast forward; if there is anything western countries can teach us in our ambition to “generate many billionaires and millionaires in the agriculture sector” is that, you can’t refrain from investment and anticipate getting anything.  

We are not in a position to give billions of dollars to our farming communities in the same way the leading economies are doing. Nor should we limit ourselves into thinking that we can only be who they are now.

“To whom will be faithful in little things, will be faithful in many” or so, the wisest man said. The question then is what are we doing with the little we have?

But here is just but a key, a territorial market in district A, collects and sell different crops which hails from farmers in that particular locality. By the powers vested by district council, market manager collects duties from traders who use those infrastructures to do their business on daily basis. In some other districts daily collections nears to 10m/-, but most of them are either swindled or used for managerial purposes.

Now imagine, if just a half of that could be re – invested to farmers, how much could farming gains be multiplied?  Unmistakably, we could be having the audacity to 'prophesy' of the “billionaires and millionaires in farming sector”. Malawi tried similar path sometimes in 2008 and the results were epic. Can’t we try this out?         

Author: Zirack Andrew

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