The other morning I purchased a banana from a grocery store in Michigan. Recently returned to the United States after living in Guinea for 2.5+ years, I decided a banana would be a safe bet, passing up the mangoes because I knew they couldn't possibly compare to the sweet, juicy, rainy-season ones that dangled heavily from the trees in my former backyard.
The banana was yellow—slightly skinnier than I recalled bananas to be—and much, much longer. A bit skeptical, I peeled back the first layer and took a bite—nothing. I tasted nothing! I looked to see if the banana indicated a home, wanting to avoid purchasing this cardboard variety for all times to come—nothing. This banana had no home! That’s probably why it tasted so empty.
I missed, once again, the sweet, robust, sometimes-green-peeled bananas from Guinea, the ones that tasted like whipped deliciousness when I bit into them. Or the teeny-tiny bright yellow ones, huddled in bundles of eight or more with a slight, tangy zing to round out their taste.
I left my cardboard banana for those without taste buds to consume, and pulled out my copy of the recent National Geographic with this headline:
I laughed at the irony—how fitting! How wonderful Guinea’s banana’s are, I want everyone to experience them! How fertile Guinea’s soil is!—and read.
Essentially the article went like this: more and more, as “developed nations” continue to become “developed”, population levels grow and land continues to become scarce, the land supply will prove insufficient at meeting the alimentary needs of the world’s swelling population. As a result, developed nations—including many big multinational corporations—have begun to gobble up low-cost land on the planet’s “hungriest continent”, anticipating this future demand and importing high-tech machinery to plant mega-fields of corn, soybeans, grain and other commodities across Africa’s terrain.
As Miguel Bosch, an Argentine agronomist who manages a nearly 25,000-acre corporate soybean farm in northern Mozambique put it, “if you wrote a letter to God and asked him for the best soil and climate conditions for farming, this is what he’d send you. It is paradise for growers. I’ve spent many years farming in Brazil and Argentina and have never seen such soil [as in some parts of Africa].”
And yet Africa’s agricultural potential remains grossly untapped. The reality is staggering: in the U.S., China and the Eurozone, farmers produce roughly 3 tons of grain per acre of land (.41 hectares) while in Africa, grain farmers produce roughly .5 tons per acre. This means African farmers, in general, register a one-sixth production capacity compared to those from the developed world—largely due to poor infrastructure, limited markets, weak governance and disruptive civil wars that fractured the postcolonial continent.
Possessing nearly one-fourth of the world’s agricultural land, a resounding question lies before us: how, exactly, will Africa’s “untapped potential” farmland be tilled? Will it be large-scale, corporate farms with external, high-capital investment, export capacity and jobs for the locals? Or smaller farms with enhanced techniques made available to local farmers?
Despite several attempts to counter the agricultural odds between 1960 and 2000, the green revolution’s mix of fertilizers, irrigation and high-yield seeds never blossomed in Africa. Now, according to FAO experts, we’ll need to invest an estimated $83 billion a year in agriculture in developing countries to feed two billion more people by 2050.
Governments in countries like Mozambique, Zambia, Liberia, Ethiopia and others are attempting to create the correct formula in order to most-adeptly leverage the opportunities that agriculture’s future offers. The key involves securing land rights, ensuring thriving markets and increasing productivity but most of all—and what National Geographic didn’t explicitly mention—thoroughly imparting management and business skills on small-to-mid-sized farmers in order to guarantee investment and sustainable agribusiness practices.
And the key to good agribusiness practices and winning over local communities?
“Keep your word,” says Dries Gouws, former surgeon-turned-farmer in Zambia. “It can’t just be about the money.”
In a perfect world, turning to Africa as the planet’s future “breadbasket” includes benefits for all parties involved—investors, local communities and nations alike—with increased jobs, infrastructure and enhanced food security. And with its Agropreneur Incubation Program slated to roll out next year, Dare to Innovate’s philosophy equally aligns, intentionally hosting the bulk of its activities in a rural area rather than a metropolitan center.
Youth of the future, listen up! Africa's riches lie not in the capital cities but in its vast, fertile, rich, non-cardboard banana-producing lands.
Dare to Innovate, and I dare you… Dare to Cultivate!
RPCV Guinée (2011-2014)