Africa's rural areas and small cities seem to have been left behind by the wave of modernity and economic success, as most of the people in these areas live below the poverty line. But these areas can transform Africa's economic growth, according to the State of Food and Agriculture report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Transforming rural areas and driving forth agricultural production will be instrumental in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, according to the report.
"Since the 1990s, rural transformations in many countries have led to an increase of more than 750 million in the number of rural people living above the poverty line," says FAO. "To achieve the same results in the countries that have been left behind, the report outlines a strategy that would leverage the enormous untapped potential of food systems to drive agro-industrial development, boost small-scale farmers’ productivity and incomes, and create off-farm employment in expanding segments of food supply and value chains."
The whole idea of bringing transformative progress to rural areas and other small places sounds noble, but its feasibility and viability may be slowed by rapid population growth. The rapid population growth in Africa will likely act as an impediment to the progress of these plans.
According to the report, between 2015 and 2030, the combined population of Africa and Asia is expected to rise from 5.6 billion to more than 6.6 billion. It further states that in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people aged 15 – 24 years is projected to increase by more than 90 million by 2030, with the highest rise in rural areas.
Large increases in youth population will worsen problems like unemployment, and if productivity in the industrial and agricultural sectors remains low, employment will increasingly become unattainable. Migration from rural areas to urban areas will make the plight of the urban poor more unbearable.
The solution then is that if poverty is to be eradicated in rural areas, people in rural areas must not move to urban areas, they must remain in rural areas. The factor which will matter the most is that investment must be driven to rural areas, and in the process creating policies that will make small-scale farmers flourish. As it stands, smallholder food producers have little to no access to profitable markets and value chains, which are dominated by large producers and retailers.
Policies that will "reduce the barriers limiting their access to inputs; foster the adoption of environmentally sustainable approaches and technologies; increase access to credit and markets; facilitate farm mechanisation; revitalize agricultural extension systems; strengthen land tenure rights; ensure equity in supply contracts; and strengthen small-scale producer organisations" need to be introduced so that small-scale farmers meet the food demand for both urban and rural areas.
Leveraging food systems to meet food demands in urban areas is needed. The aim is to diversify food systems and create new economic opportunities in off-farm, agriculture-related activities such as trading, processing, packaging, distribution, and storage.
No small-scale farmer must be left behind. "Small farmers may need support if they are to benefit fully from emerging opportunities. Their lack of access to finance, markets and transport, as well as the barriers created by standards on quality, traceability and certification, often make their participation in integrated value chains very difficult. In many countries, the ongoing fragmentation of farmland may further hinder smallholder farmers’ capacity to adopt new technologies," FAO said.
If enough of these solutions are adopted for the rural areas, reliance on urban areas for economic growth will be relaxed and life may be easy for those who live in rural areas.
Header image credit: RFI