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November 03, 2011

Inappropriate aid holds back African agriculture

by Terry Mabbett

More than half a century has elapsed since Africa began to cast off the cloak and yoke of colonialism. Since then foreign aid and development has been poured into African agriculture but the results in making progress to self-sufficiency especially in staples (cereals, root crops, oilseeds and legumes) are disappointing to say the least.

Nigeria with its huge land resources, varied and favourable climatic zones, fertile soils and inherently innovative and industrious farming communities is the classic case in point. For instance, a significant area of Nigeria is natural rice territory but the country still imports 60 per cent of the rice it consumes.

Chris Okeke is a hands-on Nigerian farmer and agricultural entrepreneur who heads Wicklow Limited, a company with extensive landholdings and large agribusinesses covering production and processing. Mr Okeke is also a highly respected lawyer and prominent ambassador for Nigerian agriculture.

Okeke gives his views as to why existing aid, development and other financial programmes are clearly not working for Nigerian agriculture and how the situation can be turned around. He gives a view on how international aid and development organisations, both foreign government backed and NGO’s (non-government organisations), should operate in future to make their money and programmes work for Africa; and how he is ‘putting flesh on the bones’ of these new ideas through his own extensive and fast growing agribusiness operation in Nigeria.

Chris Okeke says “large aid and development organisations use models designed for smallholders growing cash crops for the market. In practice they end up targeting subsistence farmers because that’s what most small farmers in Nigeria are, and as a consequence neither they nor their produce gets anywhere near the market.”

External aid and donor agencies have to show impact assessment. This is the key to them receiving further funding. Consequently it satisfies them to be able to say they have assisted say 30 subsistence farmers rather than saying they have helped two big farm enterprises. Of course the latter would, in the long-term achieve far greater sustainable impact but that is lost on the donors and aid agencies and their masters.

“As an urgent alternative priority they should be targeting and catering for big farm enterprises” says Chris Okeke. This is the way forward for everybody, allowing small farmers to learn from, be supported by and supply large farms’ processing facilities like rice mills and cassava starch manufacturing factories. “Foreign sourced aid and development is fine but it must be appropriate to Africa and I very much regret to say that until now it has invariably not been so.” 

Misdirected and inappropriate programmes stymie the very progress they are designed to achieve...

complete article...African Farming

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