Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is still a challenge, thanks to the several major infrastructural and natural challenges farmers are facing to date.
There is significant under-investment in rural areas; inadequate access to infrastructure and markets; unfair market conditions; inadequate access to advanced technologies; and high production and transport costs to mention a few.
These challenges continue to cripple the agricultural value chains which in turn result in low productivity and limited cost efficiencies. For under-performing value chains, the low capacity to comply with sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and quality standards of agricultural products restrict the share of African agricultural products in lucrative international markets.
Overcoming these constraints requires policy and legal interventions that empower regulatory institutions to deliver on their mandates efficiently, rather than being bottlenecks to agricultural enterprises.
Limited access to; agricultural advisory services (AAS); technical knowledge; market information; training; quality inputs and capital; are among the chief obstacles to smallholder farmers in SSA improving their productivity, increasing their incomes, and strengthening food security today.
In Africa water is perhaps the most limiting factor to crop production. Various organizations have often put emphasis on the intensification of agricultural production systems to be embraced in all agriculture development programs.
Nevertheless, agricultural investment in Africa must not ignore efficiency in water use through small-scale irrigation, for example, under plastic tunnel “green-houses” as offering an opportunity for intensification, especially with regard to high-value cash crops such as vegetables.
For the intensification of small-scale agriculture to be realized, efforts must be made to improve water harvesting and storage in appropriate conservation infrastructure for later use during drought. Dependency on rain-fed agriculture cannot guarantee the realization of food security on the continent.
Some of the challenges facing the agricultural sector include SSA include:
Large gaps remain in meeting the financial needs of smallholder farmers across SSA. Despite the importance of agriculture, many rural and agricultural households lack access to financial products and services that would allow them to build assets, invest in technology, increase productivity, and cope with shocks such as droughts.
Rural households borrow money from informal institutions with most relying on friends and family or informal lenders, such as traders or processors. Also, smallholder farmers tend to be geographically dispersed, resource-poor, and illiterate, all of which amplify costs and risks involved with lending.
In addition, unpredictable weather patterns, long crop cycles, irregular market access, and high input costs make it even less appealing to financial institutions.
Small-scale farming in SSA is often largely disaggregated with smallholder farmers owning small individual plots of land. This strains logistics and access to supply for agribusinesses that have to invest much time and money in coordination efforts.
This is especially true in regards to traveling to and from individual farms to negotiate contracts, assess crops, and collect loans and payments with farmers trekking to company sites to collect payments and loans.
The lack of primary information or data on farmers, markets, and extension services, for example, in a few select countries, is still limiting the development of sustainable digital services that consolidate all data into one platform to bring new benefits to farmers and increase the reach of value chain actors.
In most African countries, farmer organizations lack the knowledge and tools to identify, assess and communicate agronomic knowledge and advisory services to their members.
Extension service agents also face similar problems and often lack the means and tools, if they possess the knowledge, to disseminate information to these farmer organizations in a timely fashion.
In the case of financial management, smallholder farmers lack the knowledge and respective tools to enable this, resulting in poor or inaccurate records not consolidated effectively enough to allow for transparency, efficiency, proper governance, and accountability.
Smallholder farmers continue to lack access to knowledge about current best practices and therefore end up misusing input resources at a hefty cost and great crop loss. The barriers to the extension on a large scale continue to pose a great challenge.
Extension agents are too few; farmers grow too great a variety of crops and speak too many languages for service providers to develop and apply a standard approach or methodology; and transportation infrastructure is inadequate, making it difficult for extension agents to reach rural communities.
Agro-input companies, on the other hand, have the input products needed but face challenges in reaching smallholder farmers who live mainly in remote, hard-to-reach places.
The core link between the two, agronomists and extension agents, also often lack a platform on which to record farm and crop data that could help other value chain actors.
This can result in a vicious cycle of misinformation, misuse of resources, low productivity and crop loss despite high input costs, and a disconnected and under-performing value chain system.