Speakers at the 8th Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes’ (ReNAPRI) annual conference have stressed the need for the continent to be more aggressive about promoting large-scale commercial agriculture by increasing the application of technology-driven measures throughout the entire food chain system.
They argued that significant integration of technology and digital measures into agricultural production will transform it from a subsistence practice to a modern economic endeavor.
Minister for food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto noted that, currently,Africa spends nearly US$40billion on food imports including commodities that could grow well on the continent, hence, the need to redirect these resources to improve food value chains in a way that is environmentally sustainable and inclusive where the youth are concerned.
He also said that the agricultural policy research institutes on the continent must help African governments select from climate smart agricultural options.
“The objective here is to ensure that technologies promoted through our agriculture and the food systems as a whole help Africa to protect the environment and, at the same time, help mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture.
It is my hope that deliberations during this 8th ReNAPRI conference will generate valuable knowledge for policy use on reducing food losses and food waste; developing food provisioning policies to inform implementation of healthy food services in government food procurement systems such as school feeding, hospitals and prisons, and also on increasing production of climate-resilient varieties of diverse vegetables and legumes, fruits and bio-fortified staple crops using sustainable agricultural practices ,” he said
The ReNAPRI Conference hosted by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) is towards ‘Sustainable Food Systems Transformation and Resilience in Africa’ while generating ideas that will inform policies to transform the agricultural sector.
Director of ISSER, Prof. Peter Quartey said the agriculture sector must be harnessed to add much value, employ more and provide more foreign exchange even better than it was pre COVID-19 era.
“There’s the need to invest more in the agriculture sector, in some cases, subsidizing certain productions like fertilizers, and supporting the value chain, be it processing, marketing, distribution, and moving the sector from traditional methods to technological measures and investing in large farming to make it beneficial and attractive, capable of employing more unemployed youths,” he said.
For her part, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof. Nana Aba Appiah Amfo, called on policymakers to work with the private sector to develop a framework that will shift the production paradigm from a subsistence culture to a value-creation economic activity.
“Many people, especially smallholder farmers, see the practice of agriculture as an activity for survival rather than a viable business or economic enterprise. While there is evidence that this narrative is changing, there is the need for a deliberate policy stimulus to quicken the pace of this paradigm shift,” she said.
This, she believes, will help create an environment where investors will be more eager to commit resources for the growth and sustainability of the sector.
On distribution challenges, she noted that most of Africa’s agricultural products are produced in rural areas, usually far from the city centres and due to factors such as poor road network, inadequate logistics, and high cost of transportation, hauling of agricultural goods from the production centres to market centres is often impeded, affecting the market prices of agricultural products and also having implications for post-harvest losses.
In view of that, Prof. Appiah Amfo suggested that there must be deliberate policy interventions to improve infrastructure in areas where agriculture is widespread as this will improve economies of scale, smoothen the value chain, and enhance food security and economic growth.
She also cited Mariama Sonko, a Senegalese farmer and activist, who made the point that food distribution requires that post-harvest care, preservation, and processing must be upscaled to guard against deterioration and loss of nutrients.
“Safe transport and storage, effective packaging, labeling, and marketing enable households to have access to healthy food,” she added.