How Is Urbanization Impacting Africa?

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Background photo created by evening_tao –

Africa has the most rapid rates of urbanization in the world. Because of this, cities are the greatest and fastest-growing farming markets in the African continent, with between $200 billion to $250 billion annually in food sales. More than 80% of these sales come from providers on the continent, based on a new report.

This has created both opportunities and challenges for farmers, particularly those running small farms. The “Africa Agriculture Status Report 2020,” launched at the opening of the African Green Revolution Forum virtual summit recently, highlights five areas where policymakers and partners can improve farmer access to these urban market segments.

“There are some pressures placed on smallholder farmers — they need some assistance to navigate this changeover,” said one of the professors of international development at Michigan State University and technical guide on the report during its release.

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1. Functioning Wholesale Food Markets:

Urban wholesale food markets are the “beating heart” of the whole system, said the professor. These are generally big sites in metropolitan areas, typically warehouses, where truckers and farmers bring in products of food in bulk. Millions of farmers reach millions of individuals throughout the continent through this funnel, he said. This is the access point at which about 80% of all food reaches metropolitan areas, based on the report. And it’s also how smallholder farmers access urban marketplaces.

Read: Growing More Crops Sustainably Can Solve Africa’s Food Crisis

“If these wholesale systems are blocked, overrun, or poorly run, then the whole system functions poorly,” the professor said.

With the rapid speed of urbanization, these wholesale markets have often exceeded their capacity, creating the individual largest blockage in the foodstuff system. Due to this, smallholder farms stand to be excluded, even while business is flourishing.

For instance, supermarkets will use these wholesale markets if they work well, but in case not, they create alternative supply sourcing systems that typically exclude smallholder farmers, according to the professor.

“If you want small farmers to have use of urban marketplaces, you will need efficient market structures and good management systems, ” he said.

2. New Governance

Traditionally, farming ministries govern food and agriculture plans. But as African nations urbanize, city organizers, mayors, district councils, trader organizations, and public health experts hold more power in crafting agriculture policy, keeping markets functioning, and supervising food processing and safety systems, based on the report.

“The mayor is suddenly — with no farming training and not plenty of technical employees — he or she manages the only most crucial element of the whole food system, ” the professor said.

This could include ensuring that truck drivers don’t spend half a day caught in traffic and that the drainage systems in the wholesale market segments are appropriately sloped, so there is not stagnating water that can ruin food products and give birth to disease.

Currently, there is a “patchwork” of different agencies, often poorly resourced, intervening in urban farming and markets, according to the report.

“Improved governance models, therefore, will need expanded resources and much more effective coordination among public and private sector governing organizations, ” the report notes.

The supply chains, which run from rural suppliers to urban market segments, are often long and cross many jurisdictions, which creates another set of challenges.

“If you have inconsistent guidelines, or inconsistent facilities, or protocols of any sort — that poses problems, ” said the professor. “Governance needs to cut across administrative boundaries. ”

3. Food Safety

The African continent already has the highest per household rate of food-borne illness in the world. With urbanization, you will find a growth in demand for perishable food, such as dairy, chicken, meat, fish, and produce. While these are high-value products, offering opportunities to farmers to raise their incomes, they are also potentially dangerous to consumers, according to the report.

Top concerns include poor animal husbandry and butchering practices, aflatoxins, and other fungal diseases in maize and groundnuts, as well as bacterial disease in uncooked foods. The overuse of pesticides is also a key issue.

As the food system gradually changes, the safety burden expands but many of the people in charge of monitoring this are under-resourced and over-stretched, the professor said.

4. Obstructions in Intra-African Industry

Border posts and checkpoint costs increase the expenses associated with moving food into cities, based on the report. For example, livestock exports from Burkina Faso pass through 50 checkpoints in between the Sahelian herding zones and markets in Accra, Ghana. Foreign exporters, such as those from Europe or Brazil, in comparison, can ship their food directly to African port metropolitan areas with no checkpoints, putting local suppliers at a downside.

“In order to really permit the continent to feed the cities efficiently, we need to have some reforms to facilitate these intra-regional trade flows,” the professor said.

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Urban food prices are growing faster than domestic supply, which is a sign that domestic providers aren’t in a position to meet the full demand. But there is room to analyze opportunities for import substitutions, the professor said.

Wheat, for instance, the top commodity import into Africa, is not ideally produced in the region because a freeze is necessary during the growing season of hard kinds of winter wheat. But other frequently imported crops, such as the inputs for vegetable oil, as well as sugar and rice, are grown locally, and much more could be done to stimulate local production and sales.

5. Agricultural Research

Right now, there is also a need to increase research across the continent. While in the past, most research was focused on food staples, agricultural research focused on perishable products is now needed.

This will include research that is focused on discovering “productive, disease-tolerant types of animals and plants adapted to local environmental conditions,” according to the report.

“If African farmers are going to be competitive, they need improved indigenous types that will enable them to compete while saving their money,” said the professor.  

Bottom Line

Urbanization is undoubtedly affecting Africa but in a good way. Since Africa is mostly suffering from problems like droughts and food scarcity, urbanization can help decrease that all by impacting the agricultural sector of Africa.

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