Alvaro Sobrinho’s work on sustainability, and the potential of agriculture in Africa

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, trustee of The Planet Earth Institute, has written several articles underscoring the importance of having sustainable business models in Africa. Sobrinho’s work demonstrates that education, policy, business and environmental awareness need to be integrated in order to achieve a flourishing Africa. For instance, Dr Sobrinho has written both about the need for the provision of high quality PhD level education on the continent, and about the need to train a new generation of socially responsible African leaders. Looking at the agricultural sector in Africa through the lens of Sobrinho’s work yields some fruitful conclusions. Agriculture should be treated as a business, and it should be developed in a sustainable way.

The current state of African agriculture

The good news is that, according to reports from African farms, agricultural productivity has been growing on the continent since 2005. Nevertheless, the story of African agriculture ultimately remains a story of unfulfilled potential. Though it is home to over two thirds of the world’s uncultivated arable land, Africa relies heavily on imports from the US to the tune of $35 billion annually. Sobrinho’s philanthropic and academic work has alerted us to the fact that we should focus on making African business more sustainable. In this gap between uncultivated land that could feed the whole continent (with plenty left over for export) and a heavy reliance on expensive imports, there is a clear need for sustainability driven policies. Policymakers who are able to encourage African governments, farmers and workers to cultivate this uncultivated land will help to make Africa a much richer and more sustainable economy. This need for new policies is particularly urgent given the number of undernourished people in Africa. In 2015, this number was 240 million however by 2025 the WHO estimates that it will rise to 320 million.

Making agriculture a higher value sector of the economy

There is another problem that needs to be addressed. This is the fact that currently agriculture in Africa is for the most part a sector of the economy that traps workers into arduous but low paid labour. This needs to change. In order for agriculture to become a profitable and sustainable business on the continent, it should become a business that enables workers to earn a livelihood, to learn valuable skills and to flourish. As Sobrinho’s work indicates, it should go hand in hand with better education for all.

What needs to be done?

Must more government investment in African agriculture is necessary. If this occurs, African agriculture will become more profitable and sustainable. Brazil is a good case study in this respect. From the 1970s onwards, the Brazilian government began injecting huge amounts of money into Brazilian agriculture. This was also accompanied by a renewed interest in agriculture related education with the establishment (in 1973) of governmental body devoted to agricultural research. As a result, Brazil is now one of the world’s biggest agricultural powerhouses. If Africa follows suit, its fortunes will be similar.

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