By Joyce Ojanji

To achieve inclusive growth and sustainable development through implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), African countries need to advance agricultural technology and value addition among smallholder farmers.

This is according to scholars during the 18th Africa Young Graduates and Scholars (AYGS) conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

In his case study, ‘Exploring the willingness to incorporate value adding activities in primary agriculture,’ Raesetse Baloyi, a scholar from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, observed that agriculture, particularly smallholder farming remains key to rural development, food security, employment, household income and improving livelihoods.

According to Baloyi, though smallholder farmers remain among the people suffering from poverty and food insecurity in many developing countries, this narrative could change through promoting their participation in agricultural value chain.

‘’Perhaps, defining agricultural value adding in the context of smallholder farmers might not be as advanced and technology- intensive as that of commercial farmers , but it can be a step in the direction of empowering and developing rural smallholder farming while attracting young participants to the sector,” he observed.

Isaac Maviko, scholar, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), noted that improved agricultural technologies that best fit small holder farmers like the adoption and intensive use of Sustainable Intensification (SI) technologies is key in enhancing livelihoods of African countries.

LUANAR with financial support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been implementing a project called Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (AfricaRISING) which promotes adoption of crop rotation, hybrid maize seed and improved bean variety.

He noted that increasing access to input and output markets, supporting farmers with complementary sources of income and strengthening farmer based seed production and revolving seed would greatly boost agricultural sector in African countries.

‘’Globally, embracing agro biotechnology is dispensable for the realization of the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) one (poverty reduction) and SDG two (food security). It has the potential to increase farm production even though small scale farmers are resource strained,’’said Cephas Mandirahwe, scholar , Midlands State University, Zimbabwe.

He noted that existence of digital inequality which is skewed against marginalized rural small-scale farmers can only be closed through sanctioning international networks.

‘’The African continent is also grappling with challenges of infrastructure particularly roads and digital infrastructure. For intra-trade to be effective, there is need to invest in infrastructure for food system transformation,” Mandirahwe added.

The conference running from 6th- 7th, March has been organized by the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA), a research arm of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSCR), in collaboration with the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) and other strategic partners.

Under the theme “Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) Implementation Towards Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development in Africa,” the conference focuses on how implementing the AFCFTA can help Africa achieve inclusive growth and sustainable development.

The AfCFTA was launched in March 2018 with the aim of creating a unified market for goods and services across all 54 African countries. This agreement is expected to benefit a population of 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion. The primary goal of the agreement is to increase trade within Africa, create new job opportunities, and drive economic growth. However, the agreement’s implementation has been slow due to various challenges.

Nevertheless, 54 out of 55 African Union (AU) member states have signed the AfCFTA agreement as of April 2023, with 46 countries ratifying it. Last year, the AU declared 2023 the “Year of AfCFTA” to expedite the agreement’s effective implementation and benefit the African population.