To improve agricultural productivity in Africa, small holder farmers have been urged to come together and form groups/ clusters for them to become effective in their production, and to take agriculture as a business not just a means of subsistence. James Banda, Deputy Director (Land Resources Conservation) in the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi rendered the advice on the sidelines of the 4th High Level Dialogue organized by Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS) held in Gaborone during the week. The High Level dialogue brought together a number of Africa’s leading experts in the field of agriculture sector to deliberate and consider mechanisms and practices to address the continent’s low productivity in agriculture. The theme of the dialogue was ‘Improving agricultural productivity in Africa through mechanization and the use of fertilizer’. Speaking at the end of the dialogue Dr Nkosana Moyo said taking agriculture as a business will help subsistence farmers to grow and produce at large scale to cover the huge demand in the world. She called on the participants of the dialogue to go back to their respective countries and continue the debate so that there can be a positive change in agricultural production in the region. In an interview with James Banda, Deputy Director (Land Resources Conservation) in the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi, he said the use of machinery and fertilizers has capacity to improve food production in Africa. Banda said this enhance the utilization of large hectares for maximum production. However, he pointed out that according to Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics there is very little usage of machinery especially among subsistence farmers in Africa.
One of the reasons for this is because machinery has always been expensive especially for small holder farmers. This is why Banda says it is very important for farmers to form groups so that they can be able to economically benefit from the use of machinery. “It is also for African governments to deliberately make policies that will support the use of machinery by small holder farmers to help them. Governments should also work hand in hand with financial institutes to support these farers to buy and use machinery to improve the agriculture productivity,” said Banda. He explained that governments should work with commercial banks to ease things for small holder farmers since lending rates are too high and farmers do not have collateral. According to Banda dialogues such as these are very importance and have an impact on the improvement of production. He however called for more participation from decision makers to make sure the deliberations can make greater impacts. Investment Associate from Kenya Ted Machaira concurred with Banda that farmers should form groups so that they can easily get financial help as banks find it risky to to lend money to individuals. “Farmers should be aggregated into a group or a cooperative and then through these cooperatives they can have access to machinery at reasonable prices,” said Machaira. He also advised farmers to join Savings and Credit Cooperatives Society (SACCOS) for them to have access to financial help.
Furthermore Machaira urged farmers to take interest in improving their basic financial literacy which might help them in the long run. “If you do basic financial training and you keep your financial records, then you might stand a better chance to get a loan from the bank. The bank will look at your track record and how you are using your money and use that to determine giving you money because you would have already shown initiative on the use of money,” said Machaira. He concurred with Dr Moyo saying that if farmers can treat agriculture as a business and keep records of their budgets it can open opportunities for funding.