Farmers in Southern Africa, like elsewhere in Africa, are faced with problems of how to access timely and up-to-date technical agricultural information. This is mainly due to, among other reasons, a lack of adequate frontline agricultural extension officers, poor flow of information to and from farmers, and inadequate communication between research institutions and extension services. This is one of the major challenges the agricultural sector is facing in Southern Africa.
Agricultural sector in Southern Africa
Agriculture plays an important role to the economies of Southern African countries. Agriculture contributes significantly to about 35% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of most SADC member states. In addition, agricultural exports are a major foreign exchange earner, contributing on average 13 per cent to total export earnings and constituting about 66 per cent of the value of intra- regional trade. In countries like Zambia, the sector absorbs about 67% of the labour force and remains the main source of income and employment for most rural women who constitute 65% of the total rural population. Therefore, good performance of this sector is vital for food security, employment, eradicating hunger, alleviating poverty, controlling inflation, promoting economic growth and stabilizing economies.
Agriculture-led development is fundamental to cutting hunger and reducing poverty, thereby achieving some of the important millennium development goals (MDGs).
Agriculture accounts for about 20 per cent of the GDP, while for others, such as South Africa, it contributes less than five per cent. Despite the importance of agriculture in the Southern African region's economy, this sector has been in constant decline during the last decades. The agricultural sector is confronted with major challenges related to production and marketing in order to harness its growing and increasingly prosperous population and availability of natural resources. With an estimated annual growth of only 1.5 per cent, agriculture is lagging behind demographic growth.
However, guaranteed growth in agriculture means offering opportunities for improved livelihoods for the rural communities. Realizing that these opportunities require compliance with more stringent policy framework, strategies and regulations, there is an increasing need for the private and public sector to get more involved with emphasis on policy and innovations.
In the above circumstances, new approaches, technical innovations as well as policy implementation commitments are required to cope with these challenges and to enhance the livelihoods of the rural population.