From Paradox to Powerhouse: UP launches book on future of agriculture and food security in Africa

Posted on July 01, 2022

The Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (NAS) at the University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted a panel discussion and launched a book titled Africa’s Agricultural Renaissance: From Paradox to Powerhouse, authored by Dr Ayodele Odusola, a resident representative for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“This book was motivated by the kind of paradox that Africa finds itself in,” Dr Odusola said. “A continent that has a comparative advantage in terms of access and assets that could be used to turn agriculture in Africa to become the epicentre of food security globally… Based on the comparative advantages, as of today, 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa. The continent also has the highest number of youths, and we also have the highest yield gap in terms of productivity across all crops. As a result, how can such a continent be riddled in poverty, hunger, and malnutrition?”

UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe also spoke, and added, “Africa needs to create sustainable agricultural and food security systems. We have all the natural and human resources needed to produce a robust agricultural food system. Wars and pandemics beyond our control will take place, however, we need a holistic system change to address food security issues in the continent.”

Copies of the book 'Africa’s Agricultural Renaissance: From Paradox to Powerhouse'

'Africa’s Agricultural Renaissance: From Paradox to Powerhouse' highlights that Africa has the highest number of youths, comprising 64% of the population, compared to 27% in Europe and 41% in Asia.

Dr Odusola’s book addresses the contrast of the high levels of hunger in a continent that is well endowed with fertile agricultural land, plenty of fresh water, and a vibrant labour force. The bulk of this labour force thrives on agriculture, yet the continent’s largest import is food. The book also provides innovative frameworks which policymakers, private sector and international institutions can use to take clear and deliberate action to stimulate Africa’s agricultural sector, thus responding to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The panel discussion was moderated by Professor Gyebi Duodu, Head of UP’s Consumer and Food Sciences Department, and analysed some critical issues that arise out of the book.

In his opening remarks, Dr Odusola said the linkage between agriculture productivity and climate change is never one-way, and ineffective agricultural practices also make a major contribution towards climate change. “Agricultural production is not based on productivity enhancement; it's because of expansion and lag in land conservation. The continuous cutting down of trees without replanting leads to deforestation that makes our land prone to flooding.”

The book highlights that Africa has the highest number of youths, comprising 64% of the population, compared to 27% in Europe and 41% in Asia. As a result, the role of youth in this sector will be critical in bringing about an African agricultural renaissance. 

“Dietary transitions will be driven by the youth, as they constitute such an enormous proportion of the population,” said Professor Sheryl Hendriks, Head of UP’s Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development Department, who was attending the event virtually. “So those aspirations of young people need to be taken into consideration when we think about policies, as many young people aspire to a Western diet that would have disastrous effects for our health and future. Therefore, the youth is the driver and the actor in the food system.”

She added that, given the current unemployment numbers, entrepreneurship will be the default for many young people. “Food provision offers many opportunities for entrepreneurship and the transformation of African food systems.”

Dr Odusola added that subsistence and small-scale farming also play an important role in many households and communities, with small-scale farming contributing 80% of total agricultural production on the continent. “As a result, we need to change agriculture from a way of life to a business enterprise that is profitable.”

Purchase copies of the book here

- Author Paseka Elcort Gaola

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