International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called on African countries to make agriculture its priority stating that this would raise the much needed foreign exchange currently used to import food that should be grown in Africa.
The ILO, which observed that Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike, noted that this has translated to a high cost of food importation.
"The reality is that agriculture in Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike. This carries a high cost: Per capita food production has barely grown over the last 50 years, at a pace of 0.06 per cent a year. With the population rising at 2.6 per cent a year, food imports have increased at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent since 1980, with cereals accounting for the largest share. Africa receives close to half of the world's total cereal food aid.
"Africa needs to focus on raising food output per unit of land among the large majority of small-holders. An 'agriculture first' strategy - widely discussed in the 1970s - would raise much needed foreign exchange currently used to import food that should be grown in Africa; it would protect the continent from the vagaries of volatile food prices and it would raise incomes in rural areas, reducing poverty and raising demand to boost growth. This would provide more productive jobs for a significant share of Africa's youth," the ILO explained.
According to the international labour body, economic growth in Africa is forecast to continue at a robust rate, slightly above the recent trend of 5 per cent a year and, Africa is urbanising fast, with an average of close to 40 per cent of the population living in cities, as such, it may seem paradoxical to suggest that agriculture should be Africa's number one priority, especially when it comes to employment.
It expressed concern that Africa imports close to $50 billion worth of food every year, mostly to feed its rapidly expanding urban population stressing that this amount is equivalent to what Africa receives in official development aid, and over five times more than the amount invested in future economic growth by the African Development Bank (ABD).
"Africa can learn from its own varied experiences, from the lower yields of Senegal or Sudan, to the higher yields of Malawi or Zambia. Trade can play an important role. The priority must go to trade within Africa to raise exchanges between food surplus and deficit countries. At present, food imports are favoured from regions with large subsidies to producers, thus artificially depressing world prices.
"Sustained and broad-based growth in Africa cannot take place without robust agricultural growth underpinning employment and incomes for the large majority of the employed population. Turning this agenda into reality is a major task for the next 10 to 20 years," it added.