I have to admit, I know very little about agricultural research, and about food security. In my work, I am not involved in anything related to food security. I am a young Nigerian woman, a training consultant by profession and a social media enthusiast by passion.
Because of this passion, I was selected as one of the social media trainees and became one of the fifty-five social reporters for the 6th African Agricultural Science Week, organized by Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).
I knew the social media tools even though I did not know much about the core of the topics we were to cover: Agricultural Research for Development? But still, like probably any young African, I feel frustrated and anxious when topics like hunger and malnutrition come up.
And those emotions came up right away at the airport in Accra, on route to the conference. I happened to sit beside a young African lady. She was brought up in Europe but went back home to try her hand at investment.
She told me that she would love to invest in farming. “There will always be a demand for food, and there will always be a shortage in supply. So from that perspective, it almost looks like a sure investment,” she said. While the opportunities for investment in agriculture are abundant, support from banks and the government is “not favorable” (although she used other words).
Agriculture is not seen as a business one can invest in “safely.” There are too many variables: Weather, diseases, storage spoilage, unstable markets, complex processing chains, gradual depletion of water and soil resources, increasing cost of fertilizer and seeds–the list goes on and on.
Also farmers themselves are becoming less and less motivated to farm, making it difficult for people to invest in agriculture in the long term. “If I think a farmer is maybe going to give up farming the next year, why would I finance a water pump or a borehole over five years? I might not get my money back,” my friend said.
I am now at the 2nd day of this conference, where the main theme is “Africa feeding Africa.” I have now spoken to a couple of dozen researchers, and interviewed many scientists. And you know what? There are few other problems related to agriculture and food security in Africa these wise men told me, that I had not heard from my lady friend. Even though she was not a farmer, and did not work for twenty years in the field of food security, in one breath, she seemed to have summed up most of Africa’s agriculture problems.
That’s when I decided. I decided I will no longer look for problems in African food security. Instead, I am going to scout for the solutions people offer. I have heard enough about the problems. I need to understand what we will do about it.
I want to understand how we change Africa’s agricultural system so that it becomes self sufficient–so that it becomes an environment my friend would like to invest in.
Blogpost inspired by Shirley Aipoh, a social media reporter for AASW.