MFK Fisher once said, “First we eat, and then we do everything else.” Let me tell you about the power of doing business with food and agriculture in Africa.
There are a few things you could go without for a week or even a month, right? Not food and water because without these, it would be plain impossible for humans to exist on earth. Now, take that into the context of Africa and its rising population, and you will quickly understand how powerful and profitable the agricultural sector and related food industries in Africa are going to be. Africa has one of the world’s largest populations and the biggest number of people under forty years old who will be both workers and consumers. And it has a fast-rising middle class that now wants food varieties on their tables.
But not only that, sixty percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land suitable for crop production is located in Africa! The world’s population is growing fast and so is Africa’s population; the demand for food is constantly on the rise. Africa will – literally – feed right into that! Simply put, the demand will always be there, locally, regionally, globally - and Africa should step into that! So, it is important you understand that doing business in Africa’s agricultural sector and its related food-processing industries will frankly be one of your best bets for doing business in Africa.
The neglect of the agricultural sector, particularly when Nigeria became dependent on oil, has been a disaster for the country. Achieving the transformation of the agricultural sector requires a structural change in the labour composition of the sector. The farming population is ageing rapidly and unable to meet the increasingly complex challenges of markets and technology. To feed our rising population well into the future, we need young commercial farmers. We also need to create wealth, provide jobs for our teeming unemployed youth and the agricultural sector holds the greatest potential to create millions of jobs.
The future is very bright because more youths are catching in on the agriculture goldmine specially named the ‘green oil’ and exploring its amazing potentials. These young people know a secret: Agriculture in Nigeria is changing rapidly into a business and only those that get into it will reap the huge benefits. I am a firm believer that youths should occupy the centre stage of the agricultural revolution gradually sweeping through this great country- Nigeria.
In a few years from now, these young farmers will become like other farmers from advanced countries: with profitable businesses, exporting and feeding our rapidly growing population. While we all smile as we eat rice every day, Nigerian rice farmers cry because import of rice undermines domestic production. These farmers sow in hope but reap in tears, as cheap food imports dash their hopes of better prices and incomes. Youths should be exposed early in the university to the business angle of agriculture, from writing a business plan, to accessing loans, planning and managing the business, product marketing, accessing inputs etc.
The food business in Africa is a multi-billion-dollar market that will be there no matter what, and it will continue to grow. But remember that this includes agriculture, agro-allied businesses such as food processing and everything else that contributes to the food value chain until the food gets to someone ‘s mouth. You may think you don’t have any farming background and as such may have never considered growing, trading, processing, or packaging agricultural produce. Well, we could not be clearer about it: you should! And the good news: Agriculture and food processing is a growing trend among the young in Africa; it’s becoming hip. Many young Africans leaving university are now stepping into farming because they have seen others making profits, these champions codenamed ‘agripreneurs’ are creating enormous social and economic value for themselves and the African continent.
The development of agriculture is now widely supported by sixty-nine governments across Africa, which means that you will find overall enabling policy frameworks for your venture. These countries include but not limited to; Nigeria, Angola, and Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, and Kenya.
The way forward
Yes, Nigerian agriculture has potential, but no one can eat potential. We must articulate a clear vision to make Nigeria an agriculturally industrialized economy, to create wealth, jobs and markets for farmers, ensure food security and revive the rural economy to reduce rural-urban migration.
Agriculture must become the engine for growth, employment generation and poverty reduction. We must turn Nigeria into a bread basket- a power house for food production. To do so we must make a fundamental paradigm shift: Agriculture should be seen as a business and not a development program. It must be structured, developed and financed as a business for us to fully unlock its potential to make Nigeria food sufficient. Gains will not come easy, but as we do the right things we will succeed in unleashing the power of agriculture to feed our nation and turn Nigeria into a leading exporter of food.
Photo credit: Eric Terver Nyikwagh