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Olam Agri harps on making Africa net food exporter

Olam Agri, a leading agribusiness in food, feed, and fibre, has spotlighted the enormous potential within the African food value chain. Anil Nair, Country Head of Olam Agri’s Nigeria operations, highlighted this potential during the Market Access Africa Conference organised by the African Agri Council in Lagos on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. He emphasized that Africa’s food trade deficit could be offset by improving crop yields across the continent.

Anil making a presentation at the AAC

Nair pointed out that, despite Africa’s substantial share of global arable land, the continent’s current crop yield falls below the global average. He noted that Africa possesses vast uncultivated lands that could be better utilised.

“Africa has 18% of the world’s arable land and 18% of the world’s population,” Nair explained. “With a total land mass of 3 billion hectares, 253 million hectares are arable, of which 203 million are used for crop production, leaving 50 million hectares available for cultivation as temporary fallow lands and temporary meadows and pastures.”

He detailed Africa’s agricultural output: “On these 203 million hectares of cropped land, Africa produces approximately 250 million tons of cereals and coarse grains, including Maize (92 million tons), Sorghum (29 million tons), Millet (15 million tons), Rice (39 million tons), Wheat (27 million tons), Barley (6 million tons), and Teff (6 million tons). In addition to cereals, Africa grows significant quantities of tubers such as Cassava (208 million tons), Yam (86 million tons), Potato (27 million tons), and Sweet Potato (29 million tons).”

Nair maintained that Africa should not be a net food importer, citing strong crop varieties but pointed out that low crop yields are among several factors hindering higher agricultural productivity on the continent.

“Africa’s crop yields are significantly lower than the world averages,” Nair stated. “The average cereal yield in Africa is just 1.6 tons per hectare compared to the global average of 4 tons per hectare, which is 60% less. Specifically, Africa’s rice yield is 2.35 tons per hectare, half of the world average. Africa consumes about 38 million tons of rice annually, with 15 million tons being imported. The continent cultivates approximately 16.5 million hectares for paddy, producing nearly 39 million tons of paddy or 22-23 million tons of finished rice.”

Nair highlighted Olam Agri’s Rice Farm in Nigeria as an example of successful yield improvement, achieving 4.6 tons per hectare compared to the continent’s average of 2.35 tons per hectare.

He identified factors contributing to low crop yields in Africa, including the low use of fertiliser, limited adoption of mechanised farming, smallholder farmers’ lack of access to modern agronomic training, insufficient financing opportunities, and inadequate road infrastructure. Additionally, post-harvest losses, which could be reduced by investing in storage facilities, also impact productivity.

Reiterating the need for innovative and sustainable solutions, Nair stated, “Achieving significant growth in Africa’s food production value chain requires investment in crop yield improvement. Olam Agri, founded in Nigeria over 34 years ago, continues to leverage its global expertise and investment focus to drive growth in the food value chain.”

He concluded by expressing Olam Agri’s belief in Africa’s potential and called for strong partnerships and focused policy regimes to enhance productivity in the food production value chain.

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