The Farm

Despite the fact that Africa’s future will be an age of urbanism, this does not negate the role of the rural landscape and the importance of the farm. If anything, the urban future of the continent (and the planet) is likely to cast an even brighter light on the stories playing out across the farmlands of the continent.

The face of agriculture in Africa is changing, undergoing a phase of metamorphosis. In Nairobi once rural people are setting up food production systems in cities. In Nigeria pastoralists’ migration patterns are changing with the climate. In South Africa, boers are driving convoys of farm machinery across the continent to set up commercial farms in Congo-Brazzaville at the invitation of the state. In Sudan huge swaths of landare being sold off to the Saudis. Massive irrigation investments are being madein Zambia which could dry out the Okavango delta in Botswana.

As the rest of the world runs out of fresh water and good soils, many other nations and private investors are turning to Africa’s untapped and under-utilised agricultural potential. With each of these comes  a unique agenda, bringing with it a complex set of questions and decisions that citizens and government alike will need to make. For some, the motivation to invest is the potential for huge profits, thinly disguised in weak food security narratives. For others, it’s a chance to secure a food supply as their own populations grow, while for others still it’s a chance to change the lives of everyday Africans for the better. This list continues, yet within many of these agendas, a common set of questions in search of answers arise:

➢        What shape will agriculture take?

Will African farmers adopt large scale, highly consolidated models of production, such as those in Brazil and the USA? Or will a more sustainable, decentralised, small-scale approach as per the Indian or Swiss examples? Or will it be a blend? If so, how will the two interface, and how will the power of the former be balanced against the needs of the latter? 

➢        What farming methods will underpin us? 

As the drive to increase production on the continent intensifies, an ideological battle to claim the terms on which so called ‘sustainable’ agriculture is defined, has begun.  Should Africa be aiming to emulate India’s adoption of high-external input chemical farming and open its doors gratefully to global agro-tech companies like Monsanto, or is the experience of places like India a warming, that supports those in favour of more localised, self-sufficient production practices?

➢        Ecosystem interface

What price will Africa’s fragile ecosystems have to pay for expanding food production? Will we be able to restore the 65% of existing arable land which is degraded, as a first step before clearing virgin territories to expand a failing production system? Can we balance the changes in agricultural practice with the need to conserve and restore threatened ecosystems?

(Above: This land outside Maputo provides a snapshot of Africa’s agricultural choices: Will its food be produced on giant, leveled plantations like Bananalandia (at left) or on small farms, called machambas? “It must be a mix of big ag and small,” says Dries Gouws, the sprawling banana farm’s founder. Image by Robin Hammond)

(Above: Capitalising on export markets: Much of the best quality fresh produce grown in Africa is processed and packed for export to European, Middle Eastern and Asian markets where it fetches higher prices.  Some feel exporting valuable food out of Africa is a waste of precious agricultural resources, while others argue exports do more to put food on African tables than solely growing food for Africans directly.  Image by EricMiller)

(Above: A worker waters oil palm seedlings to be planted on part of a 543,600 acre lease in Liberia that will produce cooking oil. Government leaders hope the 35,000 jobs promised by Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby will help calm tensions in the warn-torn land.

 Image by Robin Hammond)

(Above: Ajiem Ogalla,11, scavenges for awieo, an edible shrub, amid corn planted by the Indian firm Karuturi Global, which holds part of a large agricultural lease in Ethiopia’s remote Gambela region. After displacing villagers and cutting down native forests, the company is deeply in debt and struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Image by Robin Hammond) 

(Above: In Brazil, a mountain of soybeans rises in the hold of a cargo ship bound for China, where they will be crushed for cooking oil and animal feed. Though China has managed to meet most of the food needs of its growing population, its imports of soybeans for animal feed have soared as a result of rising meat, egg and dairy consumption.

Brazil is the second largest exporter of soybeans after the United States. Thousands of acres of rainforest is being destroyed to create more farms in order to feed the global desire for soybean based produces.

Like China, African imports of Brazilian soya are also on the rise as animal factory farming increases on the continent. Image by John Stanmeyer)

(Above: Himba women milk cattle in a village in northern Namibia. The Himba  herds are grazed on open rangelands with herds being shifted according to the season. Milk and itsby-products are the Himba’s most important source of nutrition.

Cattle play a prominent role in Himba cultureand like other pastoralist cultures in Africa, cattle  live a completely free range existence andare rarely slaughtered.  Image by Peter Menzel )

(Above: In the largest cattle slaughter facility in Latin America, with a double-feed single line that can kill and process 240 cattle per hour, turning them into various beef products ranging from steaks, to hamburger (for McDonalds) to ground hoofs and bones for animal food.  Different beef parts are sent to various countries.  Average annual production is 900,000. Image by George Steinmetz)

(Above: At one of the largest poultry abettors in the world, Frigorifico Itabom, Brazil, processes 18,000 chickens per hour, 144,000 per day, or 640 million per year.

It takes 4.5-5.0 kg of chicken feed to raise each chicken to slaughter weight of 2.7 kg over 45 days.  Feed is 60% corn, 30% soy, and 10% other.

Spurred on by cheap chicken feed grown on massive corn and soya farms, Brazil has become one of the world’s leading chicken producers and an increasingly large exporter to Africa. Economies of scale allow Brazilian imports to undercut African producers. Image by George Steinmetz)

(Above: A local poultry producer with 4 live birder sells his produce on a street corner in Tigray Province, Ethiopia. Image by Gwen Meyer)

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