By Yemisi Izuora
The African Organisation for Standardization (ARSO) has restated its commitment to revolutionize Africa’s agricultural sector and urged for a synergy to help in the adoption of new technologies to accelerate the continent’s desire to move away from reliance on food imports and secure food supplies through rapid sustainable increase in food production.
ARSO explained that under ARSO THC 02, Agriculture and Food Products, chaired by Tanzania with membership and experts from across the continent, targets to help African countries revolutionise agriculture, by addressing issues of handling, packaging, labelling, storage and processing and intrinsically fulfil many of the broader requirements for producers to participate in global supply chains.
Media aide of ARSO President, Dr Joseph Odumodu in a statement also stressed that programmes were under way to help Africa produce high-value products; codify sustainable agricultural practices in order to address sustainability issues required to tackle environmental degradation, soil infertility, soil erosion, declining yields, increased pests and diseases, loss of biodiversity; among others.
ARSO pointed out that across Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture accounts for three-quarters of employment and one third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), maintaining that for very poor households, agricultural development not only a defence against hunger but also acted as an income generation venture nearly four times more effectively than growth in any other sector.
“These circumstances help to explain why agricultural development is such a powerful tool for reducing poverty in Africa and eliciting economic development,” ARSO added.
According to ARSO, agriculture and agricultural trade are a major source of income for almost all African countries, stressing that the expansion of agricultural trade has helped provide greater quantity, wider variety and better quality food to increasing numbers of people at lower prices. It accounts for more than 30 percent of GDP, employs more than 60 percent of the labour force, represents a major source of foreign exchange, supplies bulk of basis food and provides income for a large percentage of the rural population.
“Nevertheless, it has tended to be those economies that depend less on agricultural trade which have made the largest gains in agricultural market share; while the African economies that are more firmly based on agriculture have not only lost market share, but in many cases have also seen their agricultural trade balances deteriorate in the face of persistently high or even increasing economic dependence on agricultural exports and food security dependence on imports,” ARSO added.
The African standards body added that despite the persistently strong agricultural component of its external trade, sub-Saharan Africa’s presence in world agricultural markets has tended to lose significance since the early 1970, saying that trade potential in Africa was severely limited by low level of production capacity.
In ARSO’S words, “there is the issue of poor quality of products caused by low level of technology and lack of quality control. Clearly, the problem of quality of agricultural products begins at the farming level, where much intervention is required ranging from selection of seed variety to farming methods/management. Furthermore, traders are not used to trading on standards mostly sell in the domestic market.”
“Low level marketability of agro-products arises from lack of advanced preservation and storage equipment/technology, low level of processing and packaging skills. These factors are important requirements for trade in agriculture and food products as they address perish ability problem and ensure quality,” ARSO added.
ARSO advised that putting smallholders at the center of the system of agricultural development institutions and focusing on increasing importance of value-added compared with primary products in total agricultural trade would boost the agricultural trade in Africa.