AGRICULTURE, FISHING AND FOOD PRODUCTION IN AFRICA

 

FOOD PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

 

1. Hunting

Although used to be an important activity it is now confined to a few places and to few ethnic groups and people. Only a few tribes such as the Pygmies of the Zairian forests and the Bushmen of the Kalahari continue to hunt and collect on a full time basis. Elsewhere, hunting and collecting may take place but only as a supplement to agriculture or pastorial activities.

 

2. Pastoralism - Livestock

 

An important way of life for millions on drylands of Africa. A form of subsidence agriculture based on the herding of domesticated animals. It is adapted to dry climates where intensive subsistence agriculture is difficult or impossible. Pastoral Nomads live in the arid and semi-arid belts of North Africa, West, East and parts of Central Asia. The Fulanis of West Africa and Maasai of Kenya are examples of nomadic groups. The Nomadic tribes are divided into 3 Groups:

a.   True Nomads such as the Fulani, Tuaregs and Masai who are constantly on the move with their large herds of cattle and consider nomadism as a way of life.

b.  Transhumance is a seasonal migration of the nomads and their livestock between mountains and lowland pastures in search of green pasture following changes in climate and vegetation..

c.   Sedently Agriculturalists : settled pastoralists attend to their farms as well as keep such animals as cattle, sheep and goats.

 

3. Crop Cultivation

 

It is a form of agriculture in which only enough crops are produced to meet the requirements of the family. In good years, there may be a surplus to sell and put aside for hard times. Subsistence farmers primarily rarely use fertilizers and the sizes of their farms are very small. The whole farming system is based on human labor and draft animals. The key implements are the hoe and cutlass (matchette). Type of crops grown depends upon the climate and environment. Whereas Africans in the forest belt grow root crops like yams and cassava; plantains, oil palm; their counterparts in the savanna grow millets, sorghum etc. Maize, cassava (manioc), peanuts, beans, sweet potatoes introduced to Africa by the Portuguese, possibly from Brazil. There are 4 main agrarian areas: a) Forest cultivators who adopt either Shifting Cultivation or Land Rotation as a method of farming, b) Savanna cultivators and Oasis cultivators who use irrigation extensively.

 

Rotational Bush Fallow System:

In this farming system, local groups clear small portions of land by slashing the vegetation and burning the debris after leaving it to dry in the sun. As a result, shifting cultivation is sometimes known as Slash-and-Burn Agriculture. Crops are then cultivated on the plot of land for a certain number of years and when production declines (in the third or fourth year), the plot of land is abandoned and new farms are created in a similar manner. People who practice bush fallow system of cultivation live in small rural villages. In the past, the farmers used to rotate with their settlements and belongings. They moved all settlements occasionally to settle near the new farms. This system was called Shifting cultivation.

 

With rapid increases in population, the size of plots reduces and the number of years a cultivated land may lie fallow to regain its fertility is shortened.

 

Plantation Agriculture: A form of industrialized agriculture found primarily in tropical rainforest regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a permanent agriculture in which cash crops introduced by the Colonialists (such as banana, coffee, tea and cocoa) are cultivated and harvested for sale. This farming receives the most attention from African governments because of the exports it generates.

 

Characteristics of Traditional Agricultural Systems.

 

Traditional farmers in developing countries today grow about 20% of the world's food on about 75% of its cultivated land. INTER-PLANTING which is the simultaneous cultivation of several crops on the same crop of land is common. Some inter-planting strategies practiced in by farmers include the following:

Ÿ         Polyvarietal cultivation: a plot of land is planted with several varieties of the same crop.

Ÿ         Intercropping: two or more different crops are simultaneously planted on the same crop of land. (Merits include- pest control, self sufficiency, full use of fertilizers and nutrients). For example a carbohydrate rich grain that uses soil nitrogen may be planted alongside a protein-rich legume that puts the nutrients back.

Ÿ         Agroforestry or Alley Cropping: crops and trees are planted together. For example, a grain or legume can be planted around fruit-bearing orchard trees or in rows between fast-growing trees that can be used for fuelwood.

Ÿ         Polyculture: A more complex form of intercropping in which many different plants maturing at various times are planted together. If cultivated properly, such farms can provide food, fuel, and fertilizers and also meet other food needs of farmers.

 

Ÿ         Merits of the Poly-culture type of Farming are:

Ÿ         Root systems at different depths in the soil capture nutrients and moisture efficiently and minimize the need for fertilizer and irrigation.

Ÿ         Year round plant coverage also protects the soil from weeds, and erosion.

Ÿ         The mixed cropping is a check on insects that may feed on one crop and leave the others.

Ÿ         Crop diversity is also an insurance against bad weather.

Ÿ         Recent ecological research on crop yields of 14 ecosystems found that on the average, polyculture (with four or five crops) produces higher yields per unit of area than high-input monoculture.

 

4. Fishing

Fishing is common among coastal dwellers and those living around rivers, lakes and creeks. Methods used include dug-out canoes, nets etc. Modern technology has brought the outboard motor, but the use of large trawlers not common.

 

Colonial Effects on Indigenous Food Production Systems

 

Colonial rule brought significant changes to traditional agriculture in Africa.

 

1.  Introduction of new crops such as pineapple, corn and also cash crops

2.  Large portions of fertile land were appropriated and reserved for European farms and plantations in Zimbabwe, Kenya and other parts of Africa.

3.  Reserved Forests and Game reserves were created with often serious implications for farmers and pastorialists.

4.  Cash crops were promoted as a means of involving Africans in the International trade and ensuring supply of tropical products for European Industry. Some of the crops include cotton, cocoa, coffee, peanuts oil palm etc. (See Page 163 for maps)

5.  Cash cropping supplanted food crop cultivation and necessitated the Importation of food from European countries.

 

Attempts to Restructure African Agriculture

 

1.  State Farms – Ghana, Mozambique, Angola and Ethiopia

2.  Planned Resettlement Schemes – Kenya, Tanzania

3.  Irrigation schemes – Mali, Nigeria, Ghana etc

4.  Large scale capitalist Agriculture - Cote’d Ivoire, Botswana

 

THE FOOD CRISIS IN AFRICA

 

See page 177 for Map.

 

Food Aid:

 

Many African countries cannot or do not grow enough food and cannot also afford to import grains from abroad so in times of disasters such as famines, the US and other advanced nations have rallied to provide food aid. Today about 8000 million people or 15% of the world’s population get less than 2000 calories per day. By the mid-1980’s food aid were exceeding 10 million tons of grains annually. US has been the greatest contributor and African countries have been the largest recipients. Whereas emergency food aid in times of disasters may be welcome, long-term aid may be less desirable.

 

Impacts of Food Aid on Recipient Nations:

a)  Free or low low-cost food can drive down food prices in the recipient nations

b) Food aid quickly becomes an essential part of the national food supply hence denying the countries of local self-sufficiency

c)  There are also problems of ensuring that the food is distributed to those in greatest need who often live in remote rural areas than in the urban areas where the politician live.

d) Food aid may be offered for political support

e)  It is often an attempt to get rid of surpluses that accumulate in developed countries.

 

African Countries and Genetically Modified (GM) Foods

 

The real stakeholders in the new gm crop revolution reside in today’s poor countries. It is in the developing countries that both farmers and consumers might realize sizeable material gains over the current circumstances. Some reasons for this include:

Advantages:

a)  Increases in yields and hence a faster route to feed the world’s teeming population

b) Reduction in pesticide and fertilizer usage hence less groundwater pollution

c)  Increases in the nutrient value of basic foods

d) Plants that are better able to tolerate drought, salinity, diseases and lack of soil nutrients

e)  Tropical agriculture is technically more difficult than temperate zone agriculture because of poor soil, extremes of moisture and heat, drought, and a host of pests and parasites that attack crops. Over 30% of crop yield is lost to pathogens and pests in parts of Africa.

f)    Some environmental gains may come from gm crops. (i) Pesticide use would be reduced using herbicide resistant gm varieties. This will reduce runoff of pesticides into surface streams and groundwater. (ii) The continuous expansion of land to increase crop yield could be halted by the planting of high yielding gm plant varieties. This could reduce deforestation and land degradation in the tropics.

g)  African agriculturalists may stand to benefit from research on GM foods already completed in developed countries.

Disadvantages:

1.  If gm crops continue to be developed by private firms in the developed world, poor farmers in developing countries would find the seeds too expensive to purchase.

2.  There is the potential for developing countries to depend upon private foreign companies whose operation is based on profit rather than food security and lower food prices.

3.  There is also the problem of using indigenous plants from the developing countries to develop new gm crops and applying US patent laws to own them

4.  Also disagreements over genetic uniformity of crops that will narrow the biological varieties we have today

5.  The developing countries have weak institutions for monitoring and abating the hazards that can accompany gm production and social problems of its commercialization.

 

The risks of genetically modified crops:

a)  The most serious environmental risk is the likelihood of transgenic elements escaping from cultivated crops into wild relatives (or contaminating organic varieties on nearby farms). A potential solution is to incorporate the gene in the plastids genome. In most plants, plastids are maternally inherited and not transmitted via pollen.

b) The creation of new viruses and plant diseases with no known properties through the exchange of genes.

c)  The potential for pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by Bacillus thuringiensis (plants with Bt genes).

d) Crops carrying antibiotic genes used as selectable markers may generate anti-resistance in livestock or humans.