columnBy Retlaw Matatu Matorwa
Food security has emerged as the major challenge for African governments over the last three decades.
The continent has been facing challenges of low agricultural productivity, lack of technology and scarcity of land for agricultural production due to high demand propelled by the increase in population.
At the same time, climate change has posed a threat to the region's agriculture as farmers rely more on climate and environment for farming.
The chronic food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa is due to the fact that 85-90 percent of agriculture is rainfed, and this accounts for approximately 35 percent of the region's Gross National Product, 40 percent exports and 70 percent of employment.
On the premise, Zimbabwe and the region should prioritise resources and efforts to salvage agricultural sector, to save the continent.
Agricultural expert Joyline Mutasa reiterates that Africa especially sub-Sahara needs to address issues in line with yield per hectare, most land is being taken up for buildings and other development projects at the expense of food production.
"Space for agriculture production is shrinking at an alarming level against a background of massive population increase, it is critical for stakeholders to stress on land maximisation in terms of yield per hectare," said Mutasa.
Mutasa said: "The average yield per hectare in Zimbabwe is approximately below three tonnes per hectare compared to 20 tonnes per hectare or more in countries like Brazil."
"Against this scenario, Africa is disadvantaged not only in terms of food security but even in international and regional trade. Our produce cannot stand the competition given the high costs of production," she said.
Renowned agricultural economist Mr Midway Bhunu said food security entails an individual or society's physical and economic access to sufficient nutritious food to meet dietary need and preferences for an active healthy life.
Unfortunately, Africa is threatened by many factors that preclude sustainable economic growth and progression.
"Factors affecting food security in the region include macro-economic imbalances in trade, lack of technology, farming inputs, poor infrastructure such as road networks, natural disasters and inadequate inter-regional policies encouraging trade and climate changes among many," said Bhunu.
Bhunu added that: "The region should priorities resources to curb potential threats of massive food insecurity and complement them with policies will encourage people to take up farming as a profitable venture."
African Centre for Fertiliser Development (ACFD), Dr Samuel Muchena said resources should be identified to encourage research on seed improvements, alternative farming methods, fertiliser quality and production at national and regional level.
"There is need to critically look at seed improvements in the region to mitigate the effects of climatic change. Seed is a very important component which can determine whether there is hunger or food," said Dr. Muchena
Dr Muchena said: "African Centre for Fertiliser Development in partnership with Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and European Union are training agro-dealers in Zimbabwe to improve farmers' access to inputs and output markets.
"Empowering agro dealers and improving their relationships with agro industries will go a long way in solving problems associated with access to inputs and output markets."
Zimbabwe Chapter president of Women in Agribusiness in Sub-Sahara (Wassa), Mrs Theresa Mazoyo said agro dealers if strategically networked are resourceful and can help in reducing production cost associated with involvement of middlemen in the supply chain.
"Agro dealers are important as they act as a conduit linking producers of agro-based products and farmers. They also assist in cushioning farmers from the black market which increases production costs."
"Agro dealers can be utilised as agents of information introducing farmers to latest technology, products and market information, avoiding influx of counterfeit agricultural products which affects farmer's yields."
Chief executive officer, Alliance for Commodity Trading of East and Southern Africa (Actesa), Dr Chris Muyonda, while addressing journalists in Entebbe, Uganda said Actesa through its Regional Agro Input Programme intends to boost agricultural production, create a conducive environment for regional trade and improve access to agricultural inputs to smallholder farmers.
However, Dr Muyonda said: "These efforts should be complemented with a regional policy framework that supports farmers to accessing inputs such as fertilisers, seeds and link smallholder farmers to output markets.
"In the agro dealership programme Comesa, through the Alliance for Commodity Trading of Eastern and Southern Africa will work towards ensuring that farmers have access to improved seed, fertilisers and market information for their produce among others. This is envisaged to be a recipe for increasing agriculture production in the region," said Dr Muyonda.
Dr Muyonda said currently Comesa is implementing measures to improve maize standards in the Eastern and Southern African region through Actesa and the East African Grain Council (EAGC), with the support of Usaid East Africa, Australian Aid for International Development (Aisaid) and the Swedish International Development Agency.
"The initiative on maize quality standards is expected to lead to harmonisation and improved implementation of these standards at regional level in the Eastern and Southern Africa," he said.
Mr Chance Kaseke, president of Zimbabwe Agricultural Entrepreneurs' Association (Zimaeas) emphasised the need for State and non-state actors to rally behind the initiative embarked on by the regional grouping Comesa and governments in member countries to render their support and ensure food security.
"Agricultural entrepreneurs are facing difficulties to engage in trade within the region due to lack of comprehensive regional policy framework which promote trade between member states," said Kaseke.
The region should work towards removing some of the trade barriers, which are negatively affecting intra-regional trade and exchange of agricultural commodities.
"Duty imports and taxes, quota permits are impacting negatively on trade within the continent," added Kaseke.