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With commodity aid from the World Food Programme running at record levels Ronald Watts reviews the potential for growing much more right here in Africa WHILE THE INVASIONS of large-scale commercial farms in Zimbabwe have had a disastrous effect on both exports and production for home consumption, other African countries have benefitted from the expertise of those who have moved elsewhere.

Neighbouring countries have already welcomed dispossessed farmers. There is also scope for investing in crop processing itself. A remarkable story heard a few decades ago from Angola was the proposal to use the expertise of the Madhvani business in Uganda to help rebuild the sugar industry further south. Expelled back in 1972 they later returned and rebuilt their crop processing activities.

South Korea Some of the potential investors in crop production on African soil are apparently more interested in actually using what they produce themselves, far away. The South Korean company Daewoo Logistics recently expressed interest in a 99-year lease on a million hectares in Madagascar. The main crops of this thwarted scheme were to be maize and oil palm, while the staple diet in that area is rice. It is clear that agreements need to be made that ensure real benefits for the host country as well as the investors. Saudi Arabia recently announced its intention to invest in South African agriculture at a joint Trade Commission meeting in Johannesburg. And South African farmers have recently been showing interest in the Congo Republic.

This follows the signing of an MOU between the farmers’ own organisation AgriSA and the Congolese government. With a population of only four million and two reliable rainy seasons each year this country would seem to be made for large-scale food production. Over many years there has been a steady trickle of South African farmers seeking to buy properties further north. Recent advertisements have covered a range from a ranch of more than 4800ha to a river-frontage horticultural unit covering just 3.7 near Maun in Botswana. Similar properties have been advertised in Zambia. And the area just south of the Tanzanian border in Mozambique has become popular, particularly since produce could be exported via Malawi. South Africa’s own Afrikaans-speaking minorities, which include many of mixed parentage, still have a strong leaning towards farming and carving a living from the land.

They are to be found as far north as Eldoret in Kenya, producing wheat and livestock. Most of the overseas governments that might support aid to promote food production are currently particularly concerned about reversing climate changes. There is much criticism of Brazil and Borneo for stripping forests to export timber, establish livestock units and grow cash crops. They would be equally critical of large-scale farming in the Congolese forests. But it has to be remembered that some exportable crops such as oil palm, cocoa and coffee can be grown amongst standing trees. And while some schemes for large-scale food production may have a place in development plans Africa’s main hope must be that production on a small scale can be rapidly expanded.