Agriculture is the backbone of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy, employing 65 percent of the labor force and accounting for 32 percent of gross domestic product. Given its significance, many development institutions are investing in the sector in order to boost productivity and remove inefficiencies that hamper productivity.
The African Union’s Malabo Declaration of 2014 [PDF] aims to improve the livelihoods of those directly engaged in agriculture through accelerated agricultural growth and transformation by 2025.
However, the AU’s vision could be in danger if governments do not address the challenges that face smallholder farmers who are key partners as I learnt during a three-day field visit to southern Tanzania’s Iringa region from 25-27 July 2016.
“Many farmers in my neighbourhood want these storage facilities but they are not easily accessible because they are expensive.” - Violet Kasike
During the visit organised by Kenya-headquartered Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), I discovered that the farmers have challenges such as lack of access to technologies and innovations that help to minimise post-harvest losses.
YieldWise, a US$130 million project by the Rockefeller Foundation and AGRA to reduce post-harvest losses in maize, is linking farmers with bulk buyers, and teaching them how to store their harvests safely.
The farmers have been introduced to technologies such as hermetically sealed bags and metal silos that can store grain safely for over two years without the use of chemicals through the project.
One major challenge facing the smallholder farmers I met in rural Iringa is the high cost of these technologies. Their incomes are already low as a result of heavy taxation on inputs, meaning that seeds and fertilisers are already costly. The farmers have to sell almost a quarter of their harvests to repay loans used to purchase inputs before they can break even.
However, their resolve is unbroken. I met Violet Kasike, a smallholder farmer in Kiponzelo village in Iringa, who is committed to improving yields and income from maize.
Although Kasike owns a metal silo for storing maize thanks to the project, she is concerned that her fellow farmers are losing out due to a lack of storage facilities.
“Many farmers in my neighbourhood want these storage facilities but they are not easily accessible because they are expensive,” Kasike said.
According to AGRA, Tanzania loses up to 30 per cent of all maize produced annually due to post-harvest losses. To ensure that the farmers get the most out of their crops, these losses need to be reduced in order for the country to improve its agricultural sector.
For Africa to achieve the Malabo Declaration targets, there is a need for all partners, especially governments, to help smallholder farmers’ access technologies to help minimise post-harvest losses.
*This article was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.