In Africa, it is common to see families from poor backgrounds sacrificing their land and the few cattle they own to provide their children with basic education. Most would rather have fewer meals in a day than not go to school. They do so in the hope that once these children gain a successful career they will help elevate the family from their poverty.
However, more often than not sponsored students get accustomed to their new way of life and would rather not go back home. The result is a “migration” of youth from rural areas that has sometimes been viewed as the continent’s curse and major impediment to its development.
Rather than cry foul, African countries have been urged to provide platforms through which those in the Diaspora can contribute their expertise, especially to the agricultural sector.
Speaking at the ongoing 6th Africa agriculture science week in Ghana, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni of the Barefoot Education Africa trust said that rather than lament about the number of young professionals fleeing from Africa, there is a need to find ways of engaging them in the continent’s governance.
“Africa has the potential to be the world’s food basket in the next three decades, but for us to maximize on this potential we have to fully engage those in the Diaspora,” he said.
Rukuni explained while the continent has experienced huge economic growth, there was very little development to show for it. This could be reversed, he noted, if we found ways of tapping the expertise that those in the Diaspora have acquired through nonpolitical linkages.
The 2012 state of food insecurity in the world report revealed that while the numbers of the hungry within the continent have reduced significantly, some 239 million still go hungry. Much of this statistic is attributed to the fact that many nations are still dependent on rainfed agriculture; World Bank statistics show that it accounts for 96% of all cropland. Failing to adopt better technologies that optimize rainfall use and promote efficient irrigation contribute to declineing outputs.
Renewed interest in African agriculture globally has raised optimism that the continent can be able to feed itself using its vast and underexploited land and water resources. A recent report by Oxfam revealed that African land is being ‘sold off’ to foreigners at an accelerating rate. The report noted that “foreign investors have been buying an area of land the size of London every six days” and that the land already sold “could feed a billion people, equivalent to the number of people who go to bed hungry each night.”
According to Proffessor Rukuni, the ‘great sale’ of land is mainly attributed to the fact that the continent lacks a united front and common strategy for foreign investments. This absence has led left poor local farmers in particular open to exploitation by foreign investors, who buy their land at throw-away prices.
“The people in the Diaspora are best placed to educate and engage governments on the land value and prices in the global market. We often end up selling land for as cheap as six dollars an acre because of this lack of knowledge, when we ought to value our natural resources appropriately and price them competitively on the global market,” he explained.
Rakuni lamented that while regional economic blocs in Asia and Europe all had strategies of dealing with Africa in terms of investments, Africa itself has failed to develop a coordinated strategy for the requirements foreign investors must meet.
For his part, Professor Walter Alhassan a consultant with the Forum for agricultural research in Africa explained that the agricultural sector provides a lot of opportunities that the Diaspora community can contribute to.“It does not necessarily have to be in terms of remittances: they have much needed expertise that can boost our agricultural sector.” Biotechnology, for instance, is one of the areas that could really see a boost in outputs with the proper investment.
Professor Alhassan noted that the lack of a database of Africans living in the Diaspora was a major hindrance to development of the sector, as it was difficult to link the expertise challenging governments to create the enabling environments for the Diaspora to return and invest in the economies.
Blogpost by Sandra Chao, a social media reporter for AASW6.