SEATTLE — Neighboring the Republic of Congo and home to a population of more than 1.7 million people, Gabon is one of the more economically successful countries in Africa thanks to its mass production of cash crops. While the exportation of rubber and palm oil is tremendously successful, creating sustainable agriculture in Gabon that can feed the population continues to be a problem.
Impact on Gabon’s GDP
In a nation like Gabon, where about 86 percent of the population lives in urban areas and forests cover roughly 85 percent of the land, the agriculture industry has a mild influence on the country’s economic success. According to the Oxford Business Group, the decreasing number of rural inhabitants has, in turn, led to a smaller agricultural industry.
However, in 2009, President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan, which aimed to enhance agriculture’s impact on the GDP as well as achieve self-sufficiency by 2020. The plan quickly displayed results, with the agricultural GDP increasing about 0.2 percent from 2014 to 2015. While these changes may be relatively small, the plan also increased employment in the agricultural sector by about 10.6 percent, or 1,037 workers in 2015. These small strides toward sustainable agriculture in Gabon can be attributed to the Agricultural Development and Investment Project, which increased the amount of arable land in Gabon.
Decreasing Imports to Increase Self-Sufficiency
According to AfricaNews, Gabon spends about $760 million each year on food imports. In order to achieve fully sustainable agriculture in Gabon, the dependence on imports must be decreased. However, this can only be accomplished with an increase in subsistence crop farming. To enhance subsistence crop farming, the Gabonese government has adopted a self-sufficiency plan focusing on increasing the yield of crops such as cassava, banana, plantain and tomato. This plan aims to increase economic independence and allow Gabon to be self-sufficient.
“We recommend in this recovery plan to be able to reduce 75 percent of imports of products and foodstuffs by the year 2023. And this, on the animal production component and the plant production component,” said Gabonese agricultural minister Yves-Fernard Manfoumbi.
Poultry Project Increasing Self-Sufficiency
One import that Gabon is working to overcome is chicken. Annually, Gabon imports about $50 million worth of poultry, a threatening amount of dependence for the country’s food supply. To further increase self-sufficiency, the Gabonese government has reached an agreement with an Indian company, L7H Life Resources Overseas, that will invest about $60 million in the poultry industry. The company is providing incubators, animal feed manufacturing, broilers and investments in advancing breeding techniques. The project is taking place in Nkok and is a huge step toward allowing Gabon to feed itself.
Combatting the Tsetse Fly
According to IRIN, the tsetse fly destroys more than $4 billion of agriculture and kills more than three million livestock, striking a devastating blow Gabon’s agriculture industry. Not only do these flies harm sustainable agriculture in Gabon, they also infect about 75,000 people with trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness. While trypanosomiasis has decreased in humans over the past several years, the disease remains devastating to livestock.
“It’s a poverty fly,” said Jorge Hendrichs, head of the insect and pest control department of a joint project between the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. “There are simply no animals in the poorest rural areas of Africa. Tsetse [flies]have killed the cattle that would have pulled plows in the fields or transported food to the market.”
To combat the tsetse growth, scientists are using radiation to sterilize male flies before releasing them back outside. While this strategy has proven successful in other parts of the world, it has had limited success in Africa due to a lack of funding.
“Tsetse flies are partly an insect problem, but it is also a human resource management issue. These programs are not simple. You need a lot of political will,” said Hendrichs. He also emphasized the importance of eliminating the tsetse fly. “Whereas the impact [of our work]on humans may not be so obvious, the link to Africa’s agriculture is what makes tsetse flies so important. With oxen to pull plows, you can produce 10 times more, feed yourself and your children and have enough to sell at the market,” said Hendrichs.
Olam’s Involvement in the Palm Oil Industry
According to The Straits Times, Olam International is developing about 50,000 hectares of arable land to help Gabon increase its palm oil and rubber production, after which Olam will develop another 30,000 hectares to assist small-scale farmers in producing palm oil. To ensure that sustainable agriculture in Gabon remains an issue, Olam is sending farmers in training to a variety of countries to enhance their farming knowledge and skills. By sending farmers from anywhere from Malaysia to Ivory Coast, Olam aims to strengthen farming in Gabon.
To achieve sustainable agriculture in Gabon, certain issues such as the tsetse fly and self-sufficiency must be addressed. By doing so, Gabon will continue to grow and become more economically independent, and with organizations like Olam improving farming techniques, Gabon is on the right path.
– Austin Stoltzfus