Who gets to eat? Africa has the potential to be the world's food basket, but huge challenges remain in attracting investors and ensuring that new ventures benefit the continent.

Author:Akumu, Patience
Position:Agriculture
 
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Twenty-two years ago, when the Danish conflict expert Kim Johannes first arrived in Uganda, farming did not seem like a viable option at all.

The East African nation was recovering from chronic post-independence instability, and its people were still coming to terms with a seemingly never-ending series of coups.

Conflict was still raging in the north, where the Lord's Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony was wreaking havoc. When Johannes, then a volunteer, was posted to the area, he could not wrap his head around the poverty and suffering that ravaged the region.

"It was quite scary. I came because I had no choice. Northern Uganda is where I was assigned," he recalls.

Two decades later, however, this very same place has turned into a lucrative hub for agricultural activity, and Johannes has become a successful farmer. As head of AFGRI, a South African agricultural company, he now works with local farmers to produce high-quality grain for consumption within the country and for export to over 15 countries worldwide.

According to Johannes, his current success would have been impossible without the numerous failures that came before it, events that he says helped him recognise the importance of "understanding the community". This, he believes, is key to successful investment in Africa's agricultural sector. "[Foreign] investors make the mistake of thinking that they can behave the same way they did in Germany or Denmark and put up high walls. They make the mistake of being very arrogant and very European," he says.

Johannes adds that the reality of Africa is very different to that portrayed in the popular media.

"There is so much potential. There is all this fertile land that is not fully utilised because either the people have no skills or capital," he says. "The Acholi subregion [in northern Uganda] alone could feed Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

"There is now security on the continent and agriculture can lift the people out of poverty and end food insecurity."

The world's food basket

According to the 2014 Africa Progress Report, 60% of the world's uncultivated arable land is located in Africa, meaning the continent has the potential to become the world's food basket. In theory, Africa could meet the needs of the globe's growing population, expected to reach 9bn by 2050.

The report expresses optimism that agriculture in Africa is starting to attract the attention needed to fulfil this transformative potential, but the...

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