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Urgent need for African agriculture to tilt toward biodiversity

(Image source: african.business)

The drumbeat of Africa as the new frontier of global growth was just reaching its crescendo early in the decade. The notes were in perfect sync, at least before Covid-19, with what was being witnessed on the continent, rapid economic growth, stable democracies, and substantial progress in peace and security. With over 600 million hectares of arable land and the world’s youngest and fastest-growing population, lost in the chorus was Africa’s own calling.  

At a discussion hosted by Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s leading association for project professionals and its 19 volunteer led Chapters, attendees heard from keynote speaker Brian Stephenson, that agriculture is the engine of growth that Africa needs at home than platitudes. Stephenson, founder, and principal of Passion of Hope International, spoke on the role of project management in strengthening resilience in nutrition and food security.   

“In the post Covid era, farming will rely on project management skills as much as passion.” 

The African Union declared 2022 the Year of Nutrition, drawing attention to Africa’s food security and nutrition crisis. Studies show that African economies lose some 11% of their annual Gross Domestic Product to malnutrition related costs, which translates to $25 billion, according to UNICEF.  

According to PMI, over 176 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa depend on maize-based agriculture for food and economic security. In addition, over 40% of the workforce is involved, either directly or indirectly, in agriculture. As such, climate crisis, one of the six Global Megatrends identified by PMI has the potential to disproportionately impact African farmers and the growth and development prospects of the entire continent. 

Stephenson shared his experience in helping communities across Africa build the capacity to achieve better nutrition through agriculture.   

Stephenson stated, “I embrace the term food sovereignty instead of food security where the local farmers have a level of control over what they are doing and how they are doing it. I am a proponent of agro-ecological agriculture. I believe that if we pursue food sovereignty and we do it in a nature-balanced way, things will improve.” 

Since food security is threatened when there is ecological imbalance, re-introducing biodiversity at the local level will enable African agricultural communities to break the vicious cycle of climate change, conflict and Covid-19 currently facing the continent.   

“Key to this urgent pivot to biodiversity is project management. Africa’s potential for agricultural production is enormous, with 60% of the world’s unused arable land. Yet, it remains a net importer of food with a bill likely to grow to over $110 billion by 2025,”   

says Stephenson. 

“While interventions in drought and other stress resilient seed varietals are needed, African farmers also need to tilt, speedily, back to a wider variety of traditional crop blends while reintroducing sustainable, community-based farming practices.”  

“If African farmers and rural communities are to strengthen resilience in nutrition and food security they need to know how to organise and apply project management skills to rebuild agriculture and ecosystems to be more biodiverse and resilient.”  

Stephenson’s experience empowering rural communities across Africa with project management skills to plant trees, manage the groundwater, reintroduce traditional and new crops and farming practices, like bee keeping, relies very heavily on trust.  

“Managing community-wide biodiversity projects that leverage trust is key to building resilience in nutrition and food security in Africa,”

observes Stephenson.   

SA’s Critical Skills list published recently unsurprisingly has project management at No 4. PMI’s Talent Gap report predicts that 25 million new project professionals will be needed around the world by 2030. To close the gap, 2.3 million people will need to enter PMOE every year to keep up with demand.” 

“During this decade, the SSA region will witness a 40% growth in project management-oriented employment opportunities. Agriculture will benefit largely from this trend as project managers can drive the local economy and community. As changemakers and rising leaders enter the profession, they will drive the sustainability of the world’s most important industry, food,”  

concludes Stephenson.

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