The church in Africa has the potential of becoming self-sustaining if it develops its vast land into viable commercial enterprises, said Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu.
Speaking at The United Methodist’s Church’s Africa agricultural summit Jan. 13-16, Yambasu, president of the Africa College of Bishops, called on the church to effectively utilize the land by developing large-scale farming projects.
“As Africans, almost every local church in the rural communities has access to vast land resources which have remained virtually unused,” he told 80 delegates attending the historic summit.
“Tragically, the church is fast losing huge portions of these lands to encroachers and wealthy people who use their wealth to challenge the church’s ownership of these properties. I strongly believe that given the opportunity to develop viable commercial farming enterprises, poverty in the church can be overturned, employment will be created, communities will be empowered and transformed and food security can be achieved,” Yambasu said.
Participants to the summit — themed “Multiplying the Loaves: the Church and Agriculture in Africa,” drawn from John 6:2-14 — included church farm managers, agronomists and missionaries serving in agriculture across the continent.
The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Committee on Relief sponsored the first-of-its-kind gathering, and all African countries where The United Methodist Church is in mission were represented.
With a special session of General Conference looming, Yambasu said the issue of homosexuality has the potential to split the church.
“Sustainable agriculture is the most effective tool that will address the economic quagmire that will face the church in the event of a split,” he said.
Annual conferences in Africa heavily depend on the global church for bishops’ salaries and funding major programs and ministries, such as hospitals, universities and community development projects, he said.
He said general agencies and mission partners abroad provide 90 percent of all leadership development grants and salary support.
“Every episcopal area in Africa should establish a robust agriculture venture in order to get income and create employment. Agriculture would also be an effective tool for evangelism and mission,” Yambasu said.
“We are poor because we choose to be poor. Begging is not only demeaning, it is also dehumanizing.
“Agriculture is the one single game changer that will transform the socio-economic landscape of the church in Africa,” he said. “It is the one major and bold step that the church will take to show our various governments that it is possible for Africa to feed its population, especially in a context where the African population is skyrocketing by the second.”
Addressing the summit, Professor Fanuel Tagwira, Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, said Africa is a big continent and 65 percent of global uncultivated arable land is in Africa.
“To transform and achieve the ideal state of agriculture on the continent, we should grow drought-tolerant crops, adapt to new climate realities and use sustainable farming methods,” he said.
“We need to have more millennials and youths engaged in profitable farming activities and establish new markets and greater access to give more value to farmers.”
Tagwira, former vice chancellor at Africa University, said it was important to process agriculture produce in order to add to the value and increase intra-Africa trade in agricultural products.
“Most crops are sold unprocessed, exported raw and later imported as processed goods,” Tagwira said.
He said currently only 6 percent of cultivated land in Africa is under irrigation in five countries: South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Madagascar.
The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program adopted by African heads of state, Tagwira said, targets 6 percent annual growth in agricultural gross domestic product and an allocation of at least 10 percent of public expenditures to the agricultural sector.
“Africa has recognized that enhanced agricultural performance is key to growth and poverty reduction through its direct impact on job creation, increasing opportunities especially for women and youth, food security and improved nutrition,” he said.
“In the Malabo Declaration, African states committed, among other issues, to convert large numbers of subsistence producers to commercial producers, adhere to the (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program) process, end hunger in Africa by 2025 and halve poverty by 2025 through agricultural growth and transformation,” Tagwira said.
The Malabo Declaration was made at the African Union meeting in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in June 2014.
Tagwira said the church has a role to play in transforming the state of agriculture as it has manpower, land with potential for large-scale farming activities, influence to change community views and education facilities with credibility to change mindsets.
The Africa agricultural summit was a response by the Board of Global Ministries and UMCOR to the keynote address by Yambasu at the Africa Extended Cabinet in Ghana in February 2018.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Conference.