The livelihood of a huge part of the population in Sub-saharan is dependent on agriculture. Either as a means of income or basically as a way to leave. According to a Mckinsey report, More than 60 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan are small-holder farmers. Furthermore, about 23 per cent of the GDP of countries in sub-Saharan Africa is gotten from Agriculture. Furthermore, there are over 51.3 million small-holder farms (i.e farms with less than 2 hectares) in sub-Saharan Africa. These are the principal source of livelihood and labour for the large population involved in the sector.
It could be expected that a larger percentage of GDP should be gotten through agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, That is not the case. Due to some factors which hamper the growth of small-scale farmers. According to the same report by Mckinsey, they stated that Africa could produce about 2 or 3 times more grains that they do presently and this translate to other agricultural produces like horticulture crops and livestock. The agricultural potential of sub-Saharan Africa is huge. Some Scholars believe that the stagnation of Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is due to the Interference of external forces who focus most of the resources and knowledge to the production of mainly export crops.
In the case of Cameroon, the majority of farmers in Cameroon do such in small-scale. They are responsible for 80% of the country’s food crops. Even with this high performance of agriculture in Cameroon. Many researchers have argued that Cameroon’s agriculture in actually in decline or stagnating. Also, this decline and stagnation is one which can be observed in most sub-Saharan African countries. Many have attributed this to poor soil nutrient conditions.
According to us, the stagnation of agricultural production has stagnated due to the slow rate of innovation and growth in operations of small-scale farmers which have very wasteful value chains. The main challenges we have been able to identify for the stagnation or decline in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa with Cameroon as a case study have been 5 which include:
- Stagnation in investment and Financing
- Climate Change
- Wasteful Value Change
- Lack of knowledge and Technology
- Infrastructure and Policies
1.Stagnation in Investment and Financing towards small-scale farmers.
According to business in Cameroon, the total loans granted to operators in the agricultural sector peaked 313.6 billion FCFA in Dec 2015, this showed that there has been an increase in the share bank loan to the agricultural sector. As Financing for agriculture sector represented 14.9% of bank loans in Cameroon. This is commendable but most of these loans are geared towards larger food processing industries rather than smallholder farmers. Consequently, though smallholder farmers in Cameroon preoccupy a large part of the population and are heavily involved in farming their ability to scale up or improve their supply chain. Majority of the investment in sub-Saharan Africa has been towards crops meant for exportation. Since small-holder farmers are more into produce crops which are seen to have a smaller profit margin like palm oil and potatoes.
Furthermore, this pushes small-holder farmers in Cameroon to move towards micro finances for loans. but this is a double-edged sword. This is because the majority of the time this microfinance give these farmers high-interest rates. This discourages some farmers from taking the loan. Unfortunately, those who take the risk of taking the loan end up paying a large chunk of their returns to this Microfinance.
To help the Cameroonian smallholder farmers get rid of this financing hurdle which they have been facing for years, the Head of State announced in January 2011 during the Ebolowa agricultural show, the creation of an agricultural bank. Finally created at the end of a general meeting held in June 2011, with a capital of FCfa 10 billion which have been fully released. But as at today, the Cameroon Rural Financial Corporation (CARFIC) is still not in operation, 9 years later.
2. Climate Change
Cameroon due to its strategic position has a lot of diversity when it comes to its agricultural landscape. Different regions have the potential of producing different types of crops. The dessert Northern regions produce cereals and grains. The Western regions produce tubers like yams, cocoyams and cassava and also vegetables. While the coastal regions produce plantains, rubber, pineapple and oil palm estates. However, all these regions have are being affected by climate change. When Rainfall fails to meet the crop requirements, the country’s limited capacity for irrigation and its high population growth rates will increase the probability of food shortage.
Studies have proven that Climate change has affected Cameroon rainfall patterns. The Sahelian Northern region is undergoing serious desertification which comes with a long period of drought. Therefore, agricultural production has been affected both quantitatively and qualitatively making them lose weight in the international markets. However, some of the effects of desertification can be countered through investment in irrigation farming.
The Coastal regions of Cameroon are experiencing rising sea levels which destroy some small-holder farms. Furthermore, the irregularity of seasons means Farmers face disrupted plans. Longer rainy and heavier rainy seasons means some crops are destroying. T
The effect of Climate change in sub-Saharan African means the decrease in land sustainability, in Highlands like those in East African countries higher temperatures means the cultivation of wheat by small-holder farmers has been affected.
All these have affected smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa the highest as they do not have the technology like complex irrigation systems to deal with the effect of climate change.
3. Wasteful Value Chain
The most commonly stored agricultural produce in Cameroon are grains like Maize, beans, groundnut, Cowpea, soya beans and rice. The ability to properly store this grains for the off seasons means that they can sell it even out of season and also can preserve and sell them to export companies given that they are still of good quality. Also, the value chain of smallholder farmers is very wasteful in Cameroon and it’s the same in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to research carried out by FAO consultant, Djibril Drame:
- 40.4% of cassava harvested is lost in the garri supply chain and 37.7 in cassava stick supply chain is lost.
- About 33.8%of tomato harvested is lost before it reaches the final consumer.
- About 45.9% of potato harvested is lost before it reaches the final consumer.
These percentages paint a picture of how wasteful the value chain for smallholder farmers is in Cameroon. This Challenge is also faced by other sub-Saharan countries. According to this independent.co.ug report, 17% of maize produced in Uganda is lost or wasted during harvest or post handling services. These report, included both large producers and smallholders farmers, so we can assume that the percentage is even way higher in smallholder farmers.
4. Lack of knowledge and Technology
We have done some work with smallholder farmers in villages like Muea, Batibo and Ngemboh. This region is famed in the country for its abundance of food. Furthermore, a lot of its crops are sent to other parts of the country and even exported. We observed as could be expected that small scale farmers lack the knowledge of modern ways to improve their agricultural produce. So we ran training on Rapid multiplication of Plantain( You can read about it here). But not only is their lack of knowledge on the part of the farmers but the people with the agricultural knowledge usually choose to work for/with big corporations or large NGOs rather than with smallholder farmers. Cameroon has many agricultural schools all over the country. With schools in Dscahng, Bafang, Maroua, Kumba and Yaounde.
These schools graduate enough students but most decide to work in offices rather than get their knowledge to the field where it is truly needed. This is detrimental to small farmers who would immensely benefit from that knowledge and thus improve their commerce.
Carren Pindiriri examined the drivers of agricultural technology adoption by smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. Using a sample of 411 farmers in Hurungwe, she finds a population technological gap of 12.7% resulting from lack of awareness. Farmers’ propensity to adopt modern technologies increases with education, training, access to credit and income. The Modernization of agriculture is a priority for increasing productivity and moving away from subsistence agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.
5. Infrastructure and Policies
From time to time when I take a trip to the North West region of Cameroon, I accompany my grandmom to her farms. We spend long days weeding, clearing and planting. Honestly, The experience is usually rewarding and calming. Putting your hands in the dirt is a relaxing feeling. But getting to her farms is a daunting task. These trips are characterised by long walks: climbing mountains and crossing streams before we can get to her farms. it is not unusual to find snakes on our path.
We will bypass other farms on our way and even notice some far off in the bushes which are even more inaccessible than ours. During the harvest period, we have to transport her crops through these same terrains before we can reach any motorable road. This is a challenge faced by most smaller holder farmers lack infrastructure, especially roads.
This causes some of the crops to be abandoned in the farms where they get bad and rotten. If Access to farms is improved, as it will be not possible to transport crops. But also, transportation of Manure and other substances to improve soil health will be enhanced. This will, therefore, improve crop quality and quantity.
In Africa, trade can be restricted by outdated policies, high import duties and border bureaucracy. Inadequate infrastructure within the continent remains an obstacle to small-scale farmers, the majority of whom live and farm in rural areas. The lack of infrastructure does have a silver lining: it creates opportunities for investors who finance physical assets, which could potentially nudge Africa into an infrastructure development boom.
The Agricultural sector of Sub-saharan Africa is lagging behind that of most the world. Even though, it has the potential to be the 1st in the world in terms of agricultural productivity. Curbing these challenges faced by smallholder farmers will improve the GDP and Standards of living of its population. We are open to opportunities to spread our knowledge with smallholder farmers.
Just leave a comment on what you think could be done to improve Small scale farming in Cameroon and Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.