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Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that the past week or so has been a hit-and-miss affair with broken links to online, and even emailed articles. A few weeks back I decided to revamp this blog, hoping to improve your reading experience. The service provider charged with this task is working tirelessly to take out these bugs. So, please bear with me if you encounter a few glitches in the near future.

Today I would like to discuss glitches that go beyond my blog page, which we are confronted with in African agriculture. Last night I posted a couple of tweets about Africa’s contribution to 2018/19 global grain and oilseed production, which is not significant, considering the available arable and unused land in the continent. The African continent accounts for 7 percent of the global maize production of 1.05 billion tonnes, 4 percent of the global wheat production of 721 million tonnes and 0.7 percent of global soybean production of 359 million tonnes.

This production deficit trajectory needs to change as the continent’s food and feed demand continues to grow. It is counterintuitive to perpetuate our net importer status for commodities that can be produced domestically in a number of countries.

Take maize for example. The continent has made strides in increasing the production of this commodity over the recent past, but this has been largely skewed to a few countries.

The International Grains Council forecasts Africa’s 2018/19 maize production at 75 million tonnes, which is slightly higher than the previous season (again, this accounts for 7 percent of global maize production).

South Africa is the leading producer, accounting for roughly 16 percent of the continent’s output in the 2018/19 season. Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia are other major maize-producing countries in the continent, collectively accounting for a 33 percent share in the continent’s output.

Within the sub-Saharan region, Zambia and Malawi’s maize industries have seen good growth over the recent past, but they remain relatively small compared to major producers in the continent. The International Grains Council forecasts Zambia and Malawi’s 2018/19 maize production at 3.5 million and 2.5 million tonnes, respectively. These countries collectively account for an 8 percent share in the continent’s output.

In terms of trade, Africa’s 2018/19 maize imports are estimated at 23 million tonnes, up by 5 percent from the previous season. The leading importers are Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Kenya. The typical maize suppliers to these countries are Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine, the US, Mexico and South Africa, amongst others. These are likely to remain the leading suppliers again in the 2018/19 season.

This begs the question of how we can achieve import substitution in Africa. The key to all of this is improving productivity and sustainability of agriculture at all scales (small to commercial) by embracing technology, and also land expansion. In terms of land expansion — land availability per se is only but one consideration driving investment decisions that could improve crop production. Also of importance are the land governance systems per country, and specifically tenure security considerations, as well as infrastructure provision, market considerations, access to and cost of finance, political arrangements and stability, local skills availability, and others.

It will only be a correct balance of these aforementioned policy considerations, and their consistent implementation, which could help Africa attain its befitting net exporter status in the long-term.


Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

 

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