Seed 2 Harvest Report: Exploring Africa's Agricultural Development and Security Challenges - I

RileySENTINEL Regional Geopolitical Special Report

Summary for Special Report Seed 2 Harvest Report I

The Seed 2 Harvest special report series embarks on a detailed exploration of Africa's agricultural sector.

The series commences by unraveling Africa's complex agricultural history while spotlighting its vast untapped potential. It highlights key nations including Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, and Tanzania, offering unique perspectives on their agricultural strengths and investment opportunities.

Following the introduction, the series dives deep into the distinctive agricultural possibilities in each country. This part captures Ethiopia's thriving agricultural investments, Egypt's expanding agricultural initiatives, Central Africa's policy implementations, and West Africa's burgeoning market.

The next phase of the series identifies and elaborates on the major trends that are defining the future of agricultural investment in Africa. Topics such as Agri-Tech, Climate-Resilient Farming, Agro-Processing Industries, Aquaculture, and Livestock Farming provide readers with a profound understanding of these burgeoning sectors.

In the second special report, there will be a granular focus on opportunities and supply chain considerations that are critical to the monetization of harvested potential. This upcoming report will offer extensive insights into these key areas.

Alongside this, the series will delve into the unique security environments in these nations. It presents a thoughtful review on how security challenges could impact market opportunities and provides additional support for navigating these complexities. The series concludes by encapsulating the major points and opportunities revealed in the report.

In essence, the Seed 2 Harvest series aims to equip stakeholders in organizations seeking to establish or expand business operations in Africa with an in-depth understanding to leverage Continant's expansive agricultural potential.

A Historical Review of Agricultural Development in Africa

Africa has played a significant role in the earliest records of agriculture worldwide. The development of this critical sector in the Nile Valley and its contribution to the resilient Egyptian civilization thousands of years ago are well-documented. The Nile and its adjacent lands became the foundation of a sophisticated political economy that continues to thrive to this day. Before irrigation systems were recorded in Egypt, it is believed that some form of agriculture took place in the fertile lands of the upper Nile after hunting and gathering activities.

During the second half of the first millennium AD, the search for fertile lands and the cultivation of crops motivated migration within Africa. For instance, the Bantu migration from Western Africa to Central and Southern Africa was facilitated by the cultivation and consumption of green bananas (plantains). In Medieval West Africa, the western Sudanese empires of Mali and Songhay utilized the rich alluvium of the Niger River and its inland Niger Delta to cultivate the surrounding lands.

Throughout history, North Africa has cultivated the rich Mediterranean vegetation on the northern fringes of the region. In the Horn of Africa, the Aksum civilization developed an agricultural system that could sustain a sophisticated society.

During these periods, the focus of agriculture was primarily on the production of staple crops that sustained civilizations. With the exception of desert regions like the Nile River valley, where irrigation systems were developed out of necessity, much of the agricultural systems relied on weather patterns to flourish.

Regional Agricultural Strengths of Africa

African Development Bank - Priority agricultural commodity value chances and agro-ecological zones

While understanding the pre-colonial agricultural history of Africa is essential to assessing the evolution of the sector on the continent, it is important to recognize that modern-day agriculture has been greatly influenced by colonialism and Afro-European contact.

During the era of European exploration of the Atlantic, which originated in southern Europe, particularly the Iberian Peninsula, navigators turned their attention to discovering new lands and territories in the west and south. While the Spanish focused mainly on the West, the Portuguese, among other things, sought a possible route around Africa to India. By the late 1400s, these navigators had reached various coasts in Western Africa and the Americas.

These voyages introduced Europeans to new crops and plants, ultimately impacting African agriculture in the following centuries. Samples and seeds of crops unique to South America were brought to Africa and vice versa. The similar tropical vegetation found in both continents encouraged explorers to engage in such cross-pollination.

Crops such as oil palm, cocoa, sugarcane, coffee, maize, and cassava (manioc) were introduced through these exchanges. Some of these crops thrived better in their new environments than in their places of origin. Additionally, some traditional crops experienced expansion and development in their native regions.

This experimentation became particularly significant during and after the industrial revolution, between the mid-1700s and mid-1800s, when Europe's demand for raw materials skyrocketed. Africa and the Americas became crucial suppliers of these resources, leading to increased cultivation of certain crops on the African continent.

Oil palm, originating from West Africa, became one of the major crops in high demand, thanks to its oil-bearing fruits and kernels that were essential to the industrial revolution. The latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century also witnessed a rising demand for cocoa. Rubber, sisal, and coffee had already become important crops before the end of colonialism in the mid-20th century.

Regional variations in agriculture emerged during colonialism in Africa. These differences can be attributed to various factors, one of which is the diverse vegetation across the continent that required different approaches and agricultural systems. For instance, the West African region encompassed desert, Sahel, savannah, and tropical rainforests. In the colonial era, the forest belt of the region proved particularly beneficial to European economies with the cultivation of oil palm, cocoa, coffee, and other forest crops becoming important commodities.

East Africa's climate supported the growth of cash crops like tea and coffee, while sisal production thrived in Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania). In Southern Africa, sugarcane, tobacco, tea, and coffee became primary crops due to their high demand in metropolitan Europe.

Even North Africa witnessed extensive agriculture during colonialism. France considered the western section of the region as an extension of its European territory and utilized the rich Mediterranean vegetation, particularly in Algeria, to boost its economy. In the 19th century, Egypt embarked on modernization efforts and industrialization, focusing on using domestic raw materials like cotton.

Central Africa, on the other hand, experienced limited agricultural development during this period. The vast tropical forest covering the region hindered successful farming, leading to a dominance of rubber harvesting and other tropical activities.

Another factor contributing to regional variations in agriculture was the colonial approaches adopted by European powers in the administration of their colonies. Decisions regarding the colonies, including the appointment of officials to oversee various sectors, were primarily made in European capitals. This also held true for agriculture.

While some European powers adopted indirect rule as a colonial policy, treating their colonies as extensions of their European territories, others viewed their colonies as bona fide properties of metropolitan Europe. This difference in approach influenced land ownership and appropriation.

For example, the British implemented a mixture of land tenure systems in their colonies, combining British concepts and laws of land ownership with traditional ones. The British government claimed crown and locally owned lands through conquest, treaties, and co-optation, resulting in a mix of plantations and smallholder farms in these colonies.

Southern Africa, however, had a different experience under British rule. The British successfully claimed much of the region through conquest, involving conflicts with Dutch farmers and other interests. The climate of the region, similar to some parts of East Africa, attracted more European settlers, leading to successful livestock rearing and dairy agriculture.

Other European powers, such as the Germans, Belgians, Portuguese, and French, adopted a more direct approach, treating their colonies as owned properties of metropolitan Europe. Consequently, land ownership in these colonies predominantly belonged to the colonialists, fostering deliberate agricultural practices. For instance, the German East African Company cultivated sisal in the late 19th century.

As previously mentioned, Algeria became a productive extension of metropolitan France, while the Portuguese and Spanish pursued similar approaches in their African territories.

Unraveling Historical Challenges in Agricultural Development

Atlas of Africa

The agricultural sector in Africa has faced numerous challenges, many of which can be traced back to colonial history and the immediate post-independence period. One of the major challenges that agriculture in Africa continues to grapple with is the dominance of export-oriented cash crops at the expense of food production. During colonial times, the focus was primarily on extracting raw materials from Africa to support European industries, leading to a neglect of staple food production. This trend persisted even after independence, as governments relied on revenues from cash crops to sustain their economies. This imbalance resulted in limited efforts to increase food production, despite the vast potential for irrigation and arable lands.

However, some regions have witnessed success in food production. Southern Zimbabwe, for example, has emerged as a major food production hub in the region. Kenya and Nigeria have become leading producers of corn in East and West Africa, respectively. These achievements have been attributed to both large-scale and smallholder agriculture.

Despite these successes, African governments have continued to heavily rely on cash crops for foreign exchange and trade surpluses. Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, for instance, have become major exporters of cocoa, a crucial commodity in the global confectionery industry. However, little value addition occurs in these countries, resulting in a limited focus on food production. Consequently, many African nations have become net importers of major food commodities, often relying on imports from outside the continent. Additionally, agriculture subsidies have largely been directed towards inputs such as fertilizers and chemicals, rather than supporting sustainable food production.

The supply chain and general infrastructure pose another challenge to agriculture in Africa. Colonial infrastructure was primarily designed to facilitate the flow of raw materials, including agricultural products, to Europe. This resulted in a supply chain that favored certain crops, particularly cash crops, over staples. Countries like Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Nigeria, and French Central Africa inherited infrastructural systems that prioritized the transportation of raw materials to metropolitan Europe.

In contrast, Southern and North Africa had relatively better infrastructure, which positioned them to advance domestic agriculture after independence. This relatively advantageous infrastructure also allowed these regions to pursue more independent agricultural policies.

The use of labor as a production factor has been another challenging aspect of agriculture in Africa. In many instances, labor exploitation and abuse have been prevalent. During colonial times, certain populations were designated as labor reserves for plantations and agricultural activities. This labor structure persisted even after independence, with smallholder farmers continuing to play a significant role.

Land ownership has also posed challenges in the agricultural sector. In many parts of Africa, land ownership is divided among the state, corporations, families, and individuals. Traditional royal families and other families often hold allodial titles to large portions of land. State farms were established to support import substitution industrialization by supplying raw materials to domestic industries.

In Southern Africa, a system of land ownership allowed the white minority population to own the majority of agricultural land until the early 1990s and beyond, perpetuating inequality. However, efforts have been made to address this issue in recent years.

Overall, these historical regional challenges continue to impact agriculture in Africa, highlighting the need for sustainable and equitable agricultural practices to ensure food security and economic growth on the continent.

Agriculture Instability Amidst Conflict and Adverse Conditions

In the past few decades, the agriculture sector in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, has faced significant challenges. While some of these hurdles are common across the continent, others are specific to certain regions.

Starting from the late 1970s, many African economies encountered difficulties and sought financial assistance from international institutions and bilateral partners. As a condition for this aid, governments were required to reduce their involvement in the economy, including the agricultural sector. Subsidies in agriculture were also halted or reduced.

These reforms led to the privatization of state-owned agricultural farms and assets. However, the transition to private ownership was poorly executed in many cases, resulting in the collapse of ventures. The removal of subsidies also affected the new owners who no longer received government support. Additionally, economic hardships reduced consumption due to lower purchasing power.

In the Horn of Africa and upper East Africa, drought has been a longstanding challenge. While climate conditions contribute to this issue, the region has not fully utilized its irrigation potential to support the agricultural sector. Periodic droughts have led to devastating famines, primarily affecting countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, and parts of Kenya. To address this, the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) was established in the 1980s. Although efforts were made to mitigate the effects of drought, not all states have made substantial progress. Agriculture remains vulnerable to drought in the region.

Another significant challenge for African agriculture is the production of similar products across multiple regions. This has hindered specialization and comparative advantage, making intra-African trade in agriculture difficult. Commodities like cotton, cocoa, coffee, and oil palm are grown in various countries, resulting in limited value addition to these raw materials.

Currently, the issue of food security remains critical in many regions. In early July 2023, a report indicated that approximately eleven million people in West Africa were in desperate need of food. Central Africa and the Horn of Africa also face serious food security challenges due to drought and other factors.

Conflict and clashes between pastoralists and sedentary agriculturalists have exacerbated food production problems in certain regions. Shrinking land for pasture has heightened competition and resulted in deadly clashes between different communities, such as the Hausa farmers and Fulani pastoralists in Nigeria. This situation has led to a net reduction in food production, with farms being destroyed and livestock killed.

In addition, the rise of violent extremism in Africa has contributed to food insecurity. Extremist attacks have displaced millions, disrupting agricultural activities and preventing people from producing food. Extortion and forced payments to extremist groups by pastoralists in the Sahel have further aggravated the situation.

Political instability and inadequate government policies have also hindered food security efforts. The prioritization of kinetic solutions over investments in agriculture, especially in regions affected by military involvement in politics, has resulted in poor sectoral outputs.

Infrastructure gaps, such as inadequate road and rail networks connecting food-producing areas to populated regions, have posed challenges to food security. Central Africa, in particular, has struggled with infrastructural development, making it one of the most insecure regions in terms of food supply.

Despite the vast potential for irrigation on the African continent, a significant number of countries have yet to fully harness their production capabilities. This is due, in part, to a lack of comprehensive research and initiatives aimed at enhancing soil quality. As a result, food insecurity remains a pressing concern. In regions such as Eastern and Southern Africa, the impact of drought has been particularly detrimental to food security.

However, there are countries like Ethiopia that are actively working towards resolving this issue. One notable project is the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which seeks to provide irrigation to agricultural lands and alleviate the challenges posed by water scarcity. This ambitious endeavor aims to harness the power of the Nile River by constructing a massive dam, providing irrigation for agricultural lands and mitigating the impact of water scarcity on food production.

Environmental Challenges

African Center for Strategic Studies

A significant hurdle to agricultural development and food production in Africa is the need to strike a balance between sector effectiveness and environmental protection, giving rise to the concept of sustainable agriculture.

Traditionally, African communities, particularly in tropical regions, practiced slash-and-burn and shifting cultivation as agricultural systems. These approaches were not problematic in the past when land seemed limitless and populations were smaller. However, with current concerns over global warming and the finite nature of resources, these practices are no longer sustainable.

The escalating threats facing Africa due to global warming and other anthropogenic factors are complex, intertwined, and cyclical. To fully understand the severity of these threats, it is essential to examine the key contributing factors.

Firstly, CO2 accumulation is contributing to a warming climate, causing erratic weather patterns, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and shifts in traditional rainfall patterns. These changes pose direct challenges to agriculture, exacerbating existing issues of food insecurity and impacting livelihoods of many communities that are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture.

Secondly, deforestation and natural resource stripping, largely driven by unsustainable development practices, are further accelerating global warming while also causing local environmental degradation. Forests act as vital carbon sinks, so their removal exacerbates CO2 accumulation. Similarly, the extraction and consumption of natural resources, particularly fossil fuels, also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, these practices often lead to habitat loss and biodiversity reduction, impacting ecosystem health and resilience.

Water scarcity is another significant challenge, which is amplified by climate change, population growth, and unsustainable use. It not only threatens human consumption and hygiene needs, but it also impacts irrigation necessary for food production. As mentioned, projects like the GERD in Ethiopia are critical steps towards managing water resources more effectively, but many regions are yet to adopt such measures.

The disruption of biological and ecosystem integrity can further compound these issues. For instance, loss of biodiversity can disrupt pollination and pest control services provided by wildlife, which are essential for agricultural productivity. Furthermore, damaged ecosystems may exacerbate the impacts of climate change, as they are less able to absorb shocks from weather events, leading to more extreme floods, droughts, and landslides.

Infrastructure gaps, such as inadequate transport networks, compound these environmental challenges by limiting access to markets and resources, hindering food distribution, and exacerbating food insecurity. The case of Central Africa is a perfect example where lack of infrastructural development contributes to food supply problems.

Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for Africa to turn the tide. A multifaceted approach is needed that encompasses sustainable infrastructure development, investment in climate-smart agriculture, restoration and conservation of ecosystems, and transition to low-carbon, sustainable energy sources. Such strategies should be combined with policies aimed at reducing population growth rates, improving education, and promoting sustainable economic development.

By taking such an integrated approach, African countries can not only mitigate the impacts of global warming but also harness the potential of their vast natural resources in a sustainable manner. These efforts, however, require substantial international support, collaboration, and commitment to sustainability and resilience at the global level.


Despite efforts by international financial institutions to limit government involvement in agriculture, African governments continue to play a vital role in this sector. For instance, while the government of Ghana does not own significant cocoa farms, it assumes responsibility for buying and exporting the commodity through a well-funded agency. Similar agencies exist in Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria to secure government interests in the sector.

However, investment in agriculture remains inadequate. Although governments allocate resources, bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption often divert or diminish the impact of these investments. For example, despite Ghana's substantial investment in the sector to achieve food sufficiency in recent years, the country experienced one of the highest food inflation rates in 2022, with a lack of accountability for much of the funds.

Many African economies have become heavily reliant on imported food due to the preference of the political class to import rather than seek sustainable long-term solutions to food insecurity. This dependency has resulted in a balance of payment deficit and currency pressure, leading to the chronic depreciation of African currencies against major international trading currencies.

Training and Technology

The recent trend in African economies towards the adoption of modern technology in the agricultural sector presents a development and market opportunity for technology and training companies.

In the area of irrigation and water-efficient techniques, companies specializing in the design and manufacture of innovative water conservation systems have a potentially vast market. The increasingly erratic rainfall patterns due to climate change have caused many African farmers to adopt new methods of water usage and conservation. New developments such as drip irrigation systems, soil moisture sensors, and precision agriculture can save water and improve crop yields. Tech companies with expertise in these areas could partner with local businesses or governments to implement solutions on a large scale, contributing to agricultural resilience and sustainability.

In recent years, drone technology has also seen significant adoption in African agriculture. Drones are being used for crop monitoring, precision farming, and even for the delivery of essential supplies in remote areas. Companies specializing in drone technology have a unique chance to shape this burgeoning market, either by providing the drones themselves or by offering software solutions that enable their effective use. Furthermore, the integration of AI and machine learning with drone tech can lead to more precise and data-driven farming, which in turn can significantly boost productivity and food security.

The shift from rudimentary farm implements to medium-scale equipment is another development that provides opportunities for machinery manufacturers. Tractors, harvesters, and various farm implements are now more affordable and accessible due to improved financing models and government subsidies. Companies producing such equipment could find a large and untapped market in African countries, especially those with policies that encourage mechanization in farming.

Moreover, it's not just about selling equipment or technology. There is also a significant need for training farmers to properly use these new tools. Edtech companies and institutions could develop online or mobile training platforms to teach farmers how to maximize the potential of these technologies. This training could cover anything from the basics of operating a drone to the more complex aspects of interpreting data from soil moisture sensors.

In the arena of industrial research related to agriculture, there is a need for research and development firms to partner with African institutions. Governments are ramping up investments in this area, and there's a demand for companies that can deliver effective and innovative research services, help develop new crop varieties, and work on solutions for pests and diseases.

The convergence of these trends presents a significant market opportunity. As African economies continue to embrace technology in agriculture, companies with the right expertise have the chance to become leading players in this emerging market. By helping to build a more efficient and resilient agricultural sector, they can also contribute to the broader goals of food security and economic development in the region.

Human Investment and Capital

The labor-intensive nature of African agriculture is adversely affected by the migration of rural youth to urban centers, resulting in labor scarcity where it is most needed. While fertility rates remain high in rural communities, the labor force tends to leave farming in search of better opportunities in expanding cities. Moreover, although agriculture is well-patronized as a subject of study across the continent, many graduates eventually pursue careers outside the sector.

Nevertheless, there seems to be a recent renaissance in agriculture in many parts of Africa, with increased enthusiasm and investment by youth. Providing more training on the adoption and application of modern technology can help further develop the human capital in the sector and add value to agricultural practices.

Emerging Opportunities

The RilySENTINAL team, with its ability to conduct regional-specific analysis and highlight trends, has identified specific areas of opportunities within the mentioned countries.

Ethiopia: Given the substantial growth and food surpluses that Ethiopia has achieved, we see promising potential in sustainable farming practices, such as organic farming and permaculture. There is an increasing global demand for organic produce, and Ethiopia, with its diverse climate and large rural workforce, is well-positioned to meet this demand.

Egypt: Egypt's strategic move to expand agricultural activities beyond the Nile Basin signals the potential for cultivating previously untapped land. This includes desert farming and vertical farming technologies, which can bring high returns on investments if implemented correctly.

Central Africa (Uganda, Tanzania): The introduction of new public policies in Central Africa is attracting both local and foreign investments. We've identified that agri-tech innovations, such as precision farming and digital supply chain management, could thrive in this environment.

West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, and Senegal): West Africa is emerging as an economic hub, and the agricultural sector is primed for growth. Key areas to look into include livestock farming due to a rising demand for dairy and meat products, and agro-processing industries to increase the value of agricultural products and create job opportunities.

Seed 2 Harvest Part II: Next Steps

The RilySENTINAL team is deeply involved in ongoing, comprehensive research into these thriving sectors. We're committed to providing our audience with factual insights, substantiated by meticulous analysis and expert validation.

The promising opportunities we've outlined above merely touch the surface of the vast potential these African nations hold. We anticipate that our upcoming reports will delve into greater detail about these areas, as well as unveil fresh opportunities that our analysts continue to uncover.

For those aiming to invest in the next surge of growth in Africa's agricultural sector, it's essential to remain attuned to the valuable insights and forecasts the RilySENTINAL team consistently delivers. Prudent, strategic insight investments in these burgeoning sectors could yield substantial returns in the medium to long term.

Moreover, understanding that the nuances of the market opportunities might intertwine with the unique security environments of these countries, we are equipped to offer additional support. We can provide in-depth, country-specific analyses, or even detailed insights into the interplay of market opportunities and security landscapes to facilitate a safer approach towards capitalizing on these opportunities.

Our commitment is to ensure you have the right information to make informed decisions. Therefore, we encourage anyone seeking more granular information about a particular country or market opportunity, or requiring an integrated analysis of market potential and security implications, to reach out to the RilySENTINAL team here directly.

Taking the initiative to request more detailed support from our team can be the first step towards successfully navigating and expanding your footprint in Africa's exciting agricultural sector, let us help you unlock the potential of Africa's thriving future.