• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

How Africa can feed the world – Adesina(2)

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Weather insurance as an asset in Nigeria

If you take a look at the small holder farmers, they put everything into it. They are very poor farmers. They invest in seeds, they invest in fertilisers. If they lose all that, they’ve probably lost most of their assets. If they are investing in chickens or in goats, or other small ruminants, if they are hit by a shock, they lose everything. Their ability to recover when they have a shock is compromised unless you are insuring them. Nobody likes to do insurance. People don’t like to pay for insurance.

However, under this context, it will be irresponsible of governments not to insure their farmers in the face of the kind of climate shocks we are going to have. Is there going to be more floods or a lot more droughts? The farmers themselves are not going to demand insurance products because, in most cases, they are not even aware of such products. But, like in Kenya, Syngenta has an interesting programme, where they actually help the farmers to insure their seeds and fertilisers, if you lose some of your seeds and fertilisers, then you get reimbursed.

We cannot, as governments, abandon farmers. That has always been the challenge in Africa; that the farmers are not well organised and so people can afford to ignore them. But the times are changing, and the cost of inaction in supporting our farmers is much more than the cost of action. I think we should support a lot more farmers with insurance scheme at scale under the context of climate change.

GM technology potential

In a context where you have challenges like increased drought, increased flood, rapid growth of pests and diseases, you do need to have a combination of conventional and non-conventional technologies if you are going to address all the shocks and feed the world and stabilise food supplies. I actually don’t think we should be afraid of a lot of these new technologies. We’ve got to manage them.

Take for example, biotechnology. Biotechnology has a huge potential in agriculture in raising yield, in stabilising production, in enhancing nutrition in crops. For example, in Africa today, we have the orange-fleshed sweet potato with pro-vitamin A in it. It was supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That has a potential of feeding millions of people and enhancing nutrition for children. In Eastern Africa, you have the drought-tolerant maize where maize is more tolerant to the heat stress than ever before. That is going to stabilise the production of maize.

We’ve got to manage many of these things. What we’ve got to do in Africa is take advantage of these technologies, but manage our regulatory frameworks. Make sure our consumers are aware of them. Make sure the biosafety regulations are well in place. Build our own capacity for testing technologies so that you don’t have gene flows. Responsible governments should put in place effective regulatory systems for any type of technology. In Nigeria, we are interested in Bt cotton for example, because farmers that grow cotton use a lot of pesticides. And, with Bt cotton, you reduce the level of these pesticides. What is important is to build the capacity for these regulations. Make sure there is consumer awareness. You’ve got to manage new technologies all the time. You can’t avoid it.

Consumption, global population rise and food supply

The reality is that as the global population rises and you have a lot more urbanisation and income growth, the demands for meat products, fruits, vegetables and eggs are going to rise. It is about finding the best way in which we meet that increasing demand. You cannot, if the land prices continue to rise. The import of our point there about biofuels, if you have targets for biofuel policy, for example, biodiesel policy in the EU and biofuel ethanol policy in the US that drives up land prices, that means the cost of producing both food, beef and poultry products will also rise. When we had the food crisis, a good part of that was also attributed to the issue of biofuel.

We need to work a lot more on the second generation of cellulolistic technologies for biofuel production because, at least, those do not compete with grain for food. We are interested in biofuel because we have a 10 per cent mix, a 10 per cent blending. The question is: what kind. We want to focus on the use of sugar cane, just like Brazil, so that we are not competing with grains for poultry production.

Africa as beacon of hope

Africa is where the problem of a lot of the global food challenge we have today lies. We have a lot of land that is yet to be cultivated in Africa today. That means Africa can actually grow in a much more productive agricultural system and supply more food. Second, is that Africa is not what it used to be. People used to think of Africa in terms of poverty, in terms of famine.

But recognise that Africa is where ten of the fastest growing economies of the world are actually in today and Nigeria is the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. This means that there are a lot of opportunities in Africa for investors in agriculture to meet a lot of the food demands in the world. But the kind of agriculture we are talking about in Africa cannot be agriculture as a development activity. Agriculture is a business. And we must actually treat it as a business to unlock the potential of it, to create wealth for millions of our people.

 SIAKA MOMOH