The concept of a united Africa feeding the world is often considered.
With a massive land base, Africa has an estimated 632 million hectares of arable land of which only 179 million hectares are currently being utilized. More than 40 per cent of these lands are in Nigeria, DR of Congo, and North and South Sudan, which are areas of conflict. Despite having this massive land base for producing food, life expectancy in Africa varies from 49 to 60 years.
Putting the countries together within the continent would make it the third-largest populated country with the fourth-largest economy while having the 11th-strongest purchasing power in the world. And it is not just the soil that brings it wealth; the continent is home to massive stores of gold, platinum, diamonds, and a host of other mineral resources.
To be a superpower it would take irrigation (only five per cent of arable land is irrigated) and the erasing of the 166 borders (as well as the appreciation of the more than 3,000 languages officially and unofficially spoken on the continent). The cultural divisions could not and would not disappear overnight, but the economic benefit of its land, resources, and extensive ports could bring dramatic wealth in a short period of time.
From the perspective of political power in the World Trade Organization (WTO), the majority of the membership and minority of the power lies in developing and least developed countries. Unification of Africa literally erases the line between the Global North and the Global South and has opportunity to change the world economic order. In terms of trading agreements, one Africa could have the same clout as experienced by Canada, China, U.S., EU and Japan, which currently collectively make up 68 per cent of all trade through the WTO.
Pushing the agenda even further, a group of scholars is asking: Can Africa feed the world by 2050?
- More with Brenda Schoepp: The world has en eating problem – and farming is the solution
Despite population growth, Africa has the youngest working population on earth. They are well connected, educated, and innovative. I asked my Nuffield colleague Thato Moagi about her farm in Limpopo, South Africa. Thato is South Africa’s first woman to be awarded a Nuffield Scholarship and is breaking the bamboo ceiling by managing her commercial farm of 59 hectares. She is looking at beef production systems globally, which is a smart move as much of the foreign buying interest in the continent of Africa is for beef.
Thato faces the same challenges as Canadian farmers, such as the shortage of labour, high input costs, and limited export markets. She often gets labourers from nearby Zimbabwe and is learning how to navigate commodity contracts. This is important as African countries are huge processors of coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, fish, beef, biopesticides, maize, rice, nuts, fertilizer, and soybeans (to name a few).
I was curious about some of the issues we are tackling in Canada today and how they were seen from her perspective as an indigenous South African.
“How do you feel about colonization?” I asked.
Her comments were twofold. First, she made it clear that “there was no hunger in Africa prior to colonization,” and then added, “That is in the past.” This shows the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural youth who are ready to take on the challenge of becoming the breadbasket of the world.
Smallholdings, co-operatives, private enterprises, and joint ownership all have their place in Africa. But knitting the threads together through the maze of culture and religion is not a simple task because of all the boundaries drawn up by Europeans in the 1800s to protect what they considered as their territory.
Perhaps it could be possible if the countries with controlling political and economic interests allow unification. But then again, why would they? Keeping Africa divided ensures their dependency and weak economies make for willing partners.
This is a deep-seated global political game and often a dangerous one. One wonders if Africa as a continent can make her own decisions to become Africa the nation. Who will be marginalized in the process?
But let us not get caught in the negative, and instead remember young women like Thato who are working at being a living example for other youth in her area. Her goal is to empower other Africans, and she as well as those others who look for economic prosperity should be supported and encouraged. Unification of Africa may very well come from the people of the soil with small social changes that add up to a social construct.
Whatever the future, as separate African nations or in the unification of Africa, this is a continent of hope and the potential to feed our world.