The African economy is still mostly rural-based and informal, driven by family-holders farmers; primarily women. The improvement of the African family- farmers system will achieve the dual targets of addressing some of the poverty reduction and gender imbalance questions in Africa. It is in this vein that AEFJN considers agricultural development as an essential agenda in the mapping of the future strategy of EU-Africa partnerships or any partnerships with the African nations.

The quest for the development of African family-farmers does not suggest the industrialisation of agriculture in Africa. The stakeholders must clearly understand this, or else their development initiatives will be counterproductive and bring untold setback to the ecosystem and the African socio-economic system, which constitutes the very fibre of its identity and existence.  In general, family farmers function within the ambit of the principles of agroecology and they present potentials for sustainable food production and agriculture. Family farming is not necessarily averse to big size farms. Instead, it is opposed to farms that function outside the ambit of the principles of sustainable agroecology. The development of family farmers in this context could mean a shift from the chemical-dependent agriculture to the fold of family farmers or increasing the size of the family farmers’ farms without compromising the agro-ecological principles.

In one sense, the development of Africa’s agriculture points in the direction of building on the local innovations that are already in existence within the continent. There are already local innovations in African communities that would transform African agriculture and ensure food security if they are scaled up. The shade net system in Nigeria, for example, is an adaption of the greenhouse system. The shade net system uses agro nets or other woven material to allow entry of required sunlight, moisture and air. It creates an appropriate climate for plant growth and is a cheaper and better alternative to the greenhouse system, based on some conducted sample surveys. The shade net system also has higher acceptability, because it is cost-effective, well-suited to the African climate, and easily controlled by adjusting the intensity of the shade net.

One of the significant challenges facing Africa’s rural family is having real value for their produce. It is sad to see that after the farmers have laboured to till the soil and produced good quality foodstuff, unfavourable market forces compelled them to sell their produce at giveaway prices. The stories are told about the African farmers that highlight agriculture as their endeared way of life, but that is less than the whole truth. African farmers want good life lives just like every other human and the actual value their produce entitle them to that much. They need not live poverty-stricken when they labour sustainably and yield products of great importance. Their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere are the envy of other economic sectors and are recognised for their real worth. Agriculture is the business through which they can improve their living conditions, and that makes accessing market to have worth for their produce becomes imperative.

Scaling up the activities of the family- farmers may be what they need to realise their profitability. That would necessarily include access to market to ensure adequate marginal returns on their investments and to reduce the food loss and wastage that occurs at the farm gate. In this vein, creating an aggregation that connects smallholder farmers to access to market to enhance value for the family farmers’ labour will be a turning point in the life of the African family farmers.  Knowing that what they produce is fully utilised in feeding the people while at the same getting the worth for their labour will inspire and excite the average African farmer the more and the teeming African young people to embrace farming as dignified trade. Scaling up the activities of African family farmers is an achievable response to the unabating and perilous crossing of the Mediterranean. One of the lures that Europe holds for young Africans is the promise of dignified returns for just labour. The development of the family-farming system has the promise of an alternative to the dangerous quest for a better life. The first step, in this direction, is to take a hard look at the economic resources of the African continent; the family-farming system has remained unexplored, undervalued and exploited.

Chika Onyejiuwa