The agricultural sector in Nigeria and Africa at large has been identified as the sector with the potential to drive growth in the economy in more ways than one. However, for governments in the various regions to truly witness expected results from their initiatives and investments in the sector, it is important to deploy strategic processes in the implementation of these initiatives.
In the last edition, we began a critical look into some of the ideas and solutions that African leaders as part of collective development plans had put together in attempts to revamp the agricultural sector across various regions. The concluding edition on Innovations in Agriculture will shed more light on a few innovative strategies that can engender sustainable growth and development in the sector and by extension the economies of the different regions.
Issues, concerns and challenges in the agricultural sector
Most African countries are regarded as emerging markets (countries possessing some characteristics of developed markets albeit, have not met developed standards) in a developing continent, but, the issues and challenges associated with the agricultural sector are identifiable across the various regions. Some of these include;
- Lack of proper agricultural infrastructure to support farming (a wide range of services to enable production, procurement, processing, storage and trade of agricultural products) ;
- Weak value chain;
- Threats and impediments to agricultural value chain as a result of lack of storage and agro processing facilities;
- Losses and huge waste of farm produce and poor management of farm produce;
- Hindrances to exports of produce;
- Power inadequacies;
- Lack of proper and affordable transportation facilities.
Strategies for sustainable farming systems
Research and Development (R&D): In more developed economies, sustainable farming, using innovative techniques, are being deployed for effective results in the production and distribution of agricultural produce. In the previous edition, we suggested that strategic relationships between various research and development agencies in the Ministry of Agriculture and international research institutions is one of the ways to achieve success within the agricultural sector. With strategic research and development, more homogenised solutions to some of these identified areas of concern will be achieved. For instance R&D has been responsible for the adoption of biotechnology in Nigeria’s agricultural production leading to the establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), as well as the National Bio-safety Management Agency (NBMA), an agency that addresses safety concerns associated with biotechnology and provides regulatory frameworks for sustainable agricultural practices.
Innovative Agriculture: Across the globe, agricultural innovations spanning the different agricultural gamut; from urban farms, aquaponics, to food hubs, have been developed. Innovative agriculture is ensuring that new models of farming and agricultural production are evolving and bringing fresh approaches to the ways food is grown and distributed. These methods provide avenues for more economies and regions to keep up with emerging trends and meet the demands of modern living, guaranteeing sustainably produced food.
Urban agriculture or urban farming is a simple system of agriculture (plants and animals inclusive) that allows individuals utilise urban communities (cities) for the purpose of agricultural production, as opposed to the conventional methods of farming only in rural areas. This type of farming is gaining popularity in more modern societies due to urban population growth. For most developing regions in Africa where more recorded cases of rural-urban migration are becoming rampant, urban agriculture provides one of the vital solutions to some of the issues and concerns around food production and distribution.
One unique advantage of urban agriculture is the ability to integrate urban economic lifestyles with the ecological systems in these communities. The allure of rural-urban migration is the inherent possibilities of better opportunities in urban communities. However, the reality is that the inability of enough business and economic organisations to provide the required opportunities to migrants has resulted in the rise of social vices and unemployment rates.
A good way to take advantage of the situation is to integrate urban agriculture with the urban ecosystem by first indoctrinating urban residents as human resources for urban farming. In the same vein, urban waste resources can be deployed in urban farming to further strengthen the drive for a circular economy (reuse, reduce, recycle) in urban communities and also provide environmental friendly solutions to urban agriculture like the conversion of organic waste for composting and urban waste water for irrigation. In doing this, more economies and societies are taking a step closer to achieving Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by building sustainable cities and communities.
Urban agriculture is also a strategic method for ensuring that food supply and distribution to urban communities provide ample compensation for rural production and imports. In many ways, introducing this method of farming in more urban communities will guarantee that poverty alleviation and social inclusion for the underprivileged urban class becomes more feasible.
Aquaponics is best described as recirculating system of plants, nutrients and fish; an integration of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) in one singular system. That is, wastes produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures are used to supply nutrients for hydroponically grown plants. This system utilises various natural and organic elements within the plants and fish in a symbiotic growth pattern. Factors like climate change, deforestation and high fossil fuel consumption will have little or no effect on the utilisation of this system. Aquaponics is regarded as a sustainable food system that offers food security solutions and gives room for;
- The ability to grow local and nutrient-rich agricultural products all year round;
- An eco-friendly and energy efficient system;
- Use of limited space for its establishment;
- Affordable and inclusive solution to farming;
- Sustainable locally sourced fresh sea food.
In the Caribbean island of Barbados, the world’s most densely populated country, Bangladesh, Palestine, Malaysia, as well as some cities in the United States, aquaponics is being practiced and perfected on different levels. Online communities of aquaponics farmers are also gathering from across the world to share experiences and promote the development of aquaponics.
In coastal cities like Lagos, the aquaponics system of farming can be explored in order to curb overfishing in the oceans and preserve the coastal ecosystems. On another level, aquaponics can support poultry and cattle farming by providing nutrient supplements. It can also be used for building a sustainable animal husbandry system.
Food hubs are mainly thriving in developed economies like China, Russia, Bulgaria, United States, Romania, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, France, etc. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food hubs are “a centrally located facility with business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food gaps.” Food hubs exist to fill the gaps in the food systems infrastructure, addressing pressing concerns like transportation, product storage and product processing.
The food hub system can provide an established process for various farmers with unique agricultural products to distribute their supplies in a controlled market. It will provide these products their own platform for marketing and distribution eliminating the risk of waste that has previously been the case with some of these products like soybean, sorghum, maize, etc.
A multi-stakeholder approach to agricultural innovation
Amongst the various innovations in agricultural systems currently being practiced across regions, a stand out is the multi-dimensional nature of modern agricultural practices. There exists an inadvertent cross cutting of different interests and disciplines; for example the potentials of adopting waste management systems in urban farming. Going by this, different sectors like health, waste management, transportation, marketing, processing, community development, parks and nature, marine agencies, urban and regional planning agencies etc. can all partner with agencies and ministries of agriculture to form policies and develop comprehensive strategic action plans for sustained growth within the various sectors.