The 2014 Africa Progress Panel report presents the two faces of Africa: robust economic growth and continuing poverty. But the report suggests Africa could change this duality by asking: how can resources make a positive impact on development? While impressive headline growth figures are reported, incomes do not trickle down to improve livelihoods of the majority of the population.
Diversifying sources of growth, to include a strengthened agriculture sector that works with nature and not against it, will go a long way to improving livelihoods, considering that the sector currently employs about 60% of Africa’s labour force, most of it rural.
Despite the importance of the agricultural sector to Africa’s development the continent had a food import bill of over USD35 billion in 2011 (excluding fish).The imports of food exceed exports by 30 percent. Less than 10 countries have managed to achieve the Maputo Declaration goal of allocating 10% of budgetary resources to agriculture or the CAADP goal of achieving 6% annual growth in agricultural GDP, while about 25 percent of the African population (around 245 million persons) still does not have enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs and between 30 to 40 percent of children less than 5 years continue to suffer from chronic under-nutrition. Additionally it is estimated that some 65% of the agricultural land in Africa is classified as degraded. Given that it can take nature up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil, and with human population and food needs increasing, critical limits are being reached that make soil stewardship an urgent matter for agriculture and food security in Africa.
On the 5th of December 2014 the first World Soil Day was held as a way of recognizing the importance of soil for sustainable development, and 2015 was declared as the International Year of Soils with the theme Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life.
The Africa Union Agenda 2063 reconfirms that agriculture and food security is a critical priority where increased production, productivity and value addition should remain high on the development agenda of the continent. With 60% of Africa’s workforce directly dependent on agriculture for survival - and growing poverty and food insecurity according to the World Bank - it is where the food is grown that should be the focus.
At the same time, growing urban populations and the middle class are demanding more nutritious, varied and processed food, creating opportunities for income generation from agriculture. Africa’s soil should be its next “oil” in a changing climate. Considering that existing oil and mineral reserves will run out, but Africa’s soil and its ecosystems if we work with them not against them will remain, ecosystem based adaptation (EBA) driven-agriculture offers a sustainable and growing source of income.
Going forward, it’s imperative to look at whether relying on oil but also soil could provide the most feasible pathway to enhance food security and job creation for the increasingly youthful population under the changing climate, currently at 200 million and rising to 400 million by 2040. Focusing on ecosystem based adaptation (EBA) driven-agriculture and building climate resilience could unleash the hidden economic assets that can spiral growth, improve food and nutrition security, and create employment to unprecedented levels.