(HN, May 19, 2010) In the northern Nigerian state of Kano, it's not difficult to spot the extreme wastage and inefficiencies that plague small farmers. Power outages, lack of water, gouging by middlemen and poor harvesting and distribution methods are among the challenges the average farmer faces.
The scenario is repeated across the African continent, compounding the poverty spiral that keeps millions poor and hungry.
A UN report released today warns that "ineffective farming techniques and wasteful post-harvest practices" have left sub-Saharan Africa as the region most likely to miss the Millennium Development Goals on poverty and hunger.
Produced by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the report say per capita food production in the least developed countries (LDCs) has declined continuously over the past 40 years – dropping by one-fifth between the early 1970s and the mid-2000s.
The report argues that nothing less than a "Green Revolution" for Africa is required, built on technology and innovation aimed at the needs and capabilities of millions of smallholder farmers and at coping with the continent’s varying climate conditions. The continent's smallholder farmers can benefit from new technologies such as low-cost drip irrigation and plastic water tanks to store runoff, as opposed to modern irrigation systems which can increase crop yields but are designed more for larger farms.
The report cites a successful policy of “smart subsidies” to ease access to fertilizers which has led to “staggering” increases in maize production in Malawi, as well as alternative technologies in the areas of pesticides, tilling and post-harvest technologies.
Smallholders make up the bulk of Africa’s farmers, many of whom live at or below the poverty line.
Separately, UNCTAD reported this week that unemployment levels in Africa is "unacceptably high." In 2008, unemployment rates registered at 10.1 percent, and is likely to remain in the "double digits" for 2009. Most of the unemployment is among the young and women, said Magdi Farahat, the Geneva Representative of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Staff, UN, files