5 Common Challenges that Farmers Face in Africa

Updated: Oct 24, 2021



While the internet is awash with articles on how farming is profitable, few give a true picture of the challenges farmers face in producing food. When done right, farming is profitable. However, the factors that determine whether a farming enterprise is profitable or not, may not be within the control of the farmer. It is these outside forces that can pose the biggest challenge to a farming business. This article explores the common challenges that both first-time and experienced farmers face.


Unpredictable weather

Weather is an important factor in farming. More so in Africa, where rainfed agriculture is practiced the most. The weather can have a direct impact on crops and livestock yields, the quality of produce, and the ability to market products to customers. In addition, if bad weather occurs at harvest time then many farms face financial ruin as they struggle to save crops from rot or pest damage. However, predicting the weather has become increasingly difficult in recent years. Many farmers have found that they can no longer rely on traditional weather forecasting or climate records when planning their farming activities.


Climate change is expected to cause more extremes of weather events, such as drought or heavy rainfall. This means that while some growing seasons may be good for farmers, other seasons may produce poor results.


High cost of feed and other inputs

Inputs are the materials needed to produce farm products. These include seeds, fertilizers, livestock feed, veterinary services, and agrochemicals. Climate change is already impacting many farmers by increasing input costs. Basic food products such as grains and seeds are becoming more expensive every year.


Purchasing high-quality inputs can be very expensive for farming businesses in some countries. High-quality inputs are often required to ensure that yields are maximized during planting or animal rearing. However, these inputs are not always available to farmers or out of reach due to high prices. When high-quality inputs are unavailable, the yields achieved during planting or animal rearing may be lower than anticipated. This can have a significant impact on the overall profitability of farming enterprises.


Pests and diseases

Pests and diseases are an inevitable part of life for livestock farmers and crop farmers. Pests and diseases lower production as well as reduce the marketability of farm produce. Farmers rely on their knowledge of how to control these threats, through prevention or treatment with chemicals, to keep their livestock and plants healthy.

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However, the evolution of pest and disease resistance to pesticides and drugs has encouraged many farmers to seek alternative methods of combating threats to their livestock and crops. The cost of buying new chemicals to keep up with pests and disease resistance is growing, as are the costs of developing genetically modified seeds that have been bred to resist pests and diseases.


Getting reliable staff

Farming is a labor-intensive business. Farmers must have enough staff to plant, maintain and harvest crops when needed. They also need permanent staff to oversee the day-to-day operations on livestock farms.


However, there are a growing number of farmers that have been unable to find skilled labor. This means they have had to do without the extra hands needed for planting and harvesting certain crops or shepherding livestock away from danger. In this instance, low harvest can lead to a loss of revenue and increased financial stress.


Staff roles in farming businesses are often interchangeable so farmers may need to adapt their farming strategy when staff leaves or when there are unexpected changes in the availability of skilled workers in the community. Due to these uncertainties in hiring labor, many farmers rely on their own family members to help them with farm activities.


Low-quality seeds and animal breeds

Seeds and animals are two types of inputs that are the foundation of every farming business. Seeds need to be carefully selected based on soil conditions, climate, and planting time.


Seeds that produce low yields could ultimately lead to crop failure. It is therefore important for every farmer to select seeds with high yield potential in order to maximize production. This can cost significant amounts of money, but it enables farmers to get the most out of their land while also ensuring sustainable farming practices.


Livestock breeds must also be carefully selected in order to produce high-quality meat, eggs, and milk for consumption by both people and animals on farms. Prolonged breeding with unsuitable mates can lead to poor health on livestock farms, preventing farmers from maximizing the potential of their livestock.


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