According to the Foreign Agriculture Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, Africa imported a total of US$43.6 billion worth of agriculture supplies, including food, in 2011. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), called the level of food imports “puzzling,” given the “vast agricultural potential” of the African continent in a report published in 2012. The report went on to cite “population growth, low and stagnating agricultural productivity, policy distortions, weak institutions and poor infrastructure” as the primary culprits in the continent’s massive importation of food.
However, a recent partnership between Kenya and Nigeria is set to transform the state of agriculture in the two countries. The 2011 food crisis, which rocked Kenya and several other West African countries, was largely blamed on drought. Although a major factor, experts pointed to additional structural issues that contributed to the food crisis including “long-term poor management of water, land and markets.”
Nigeria also faces its own set of issues when it comes to the agriculture sector. According to the Food Security Portal, run by the International Food Policy Research Institute, (IFPRI), Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country, has an estimated 71 million hectares of arable land, but only half of it is used for farming. This makes the country heavily reliant on food imports. Infrastructure issues, such as a lack of roads, makes it difficult for rural farmers, who often rely on sustenance farming, to get to markets and isolates them when crops fail, exacerbating food insecurity.
The Kenya-Nigeria Agribusiness Forum, which launched last month, will focus on these structural issues. This includes “fixing agriculture value chains, ensuring sustainable supplies, affordable financing, and instituting good agriculture practice and the certification of programmes with international recognition.”
Government officials from both Kenya and Nigeria spoke about the difficulties their countries face and the need for the relationship. Felix Koskei, Kenya’s Minister of Agriculture, described the current methods of production and food marketing, saying, “These translate to low prices, few job opportunities and low income for farmers. Changing these will increase the income to our farmers.” In a similar vein, Chairman of the Kenya-Nigeria Joint Business Council, Sani Dongote, explained that the Agribusiness Forum is a “United front to address the issues of agriculture in Nigeria to make it private sector-driven.”