Agriculture, the supplier of the basic human need that is food is the oldest and largest human invention.
The majority of the world population is dependent upon agriculture for a living. The world’s largest land, water and manpower have been occupied by agriculture. It affects our daily life both directly and indirectly. Primarily, agriculture has to supply food and sufficient nutrition for an increasing population. Its contribution to the economic development of a country is significant.
History demonstrates that agricultural development is a precondition for progress in other sectors of the economy including industrialization. The birth of industry needed certain preconditions such as technology, incentive, money to build machines and a labor force to run them, raw materials and markets, and efficient farms to feed the non-agricultural group of workers. By early 18th century, Great Britain, the birth place of the industrial revolution, became a workshop for the whole world only after it was in possession of all the preconditions for industrialization. In other words, Britain reaped the rewards of the industrial revolution only after its agricultural development.
The development of agriculture is a strategic element in the process of economic development of a country. Agriculture continues to play an extensive and decisive role in uplifting developing countries to join the league of economically developed nations. In developing countries like Eritrea, a healthy economic development starts with the transformation and modernization of the predominantly traditional agricultural economy. Agricultural transformation and mechanization can serve as the initial and foundational base of development. In Eritrea, where the majority of the population lives on farming, sustainable development depends primarily on what happens to agriculture.
Eritrea is privileged to have sufficient arable land and a climate suitable for agriculture. It is also fortunate to have the Red Sea which is rich in marine resources. Add to this a supply of hard working and productive human resources that could run the agricultural sector. All these factors give Eritrea a competitive advantage to improve its agricultural sector and to achieve food security in the foreseeable future.
Agriculture is likely to play a vital role in the development of the Eritrean economy. Close to 80 percent of the population of Eritrea depend on agriculture and animal herding for livelihood. The government of Eritrea gave priority to improving agricultural production through the expansion of irrigation and mechanization of agriculture, and to increasing the productivity of peasants, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. Toward that end, the government is investing heavily in the construction of small, medium and large dams; terracing and leveling of cultivable land, building of diversionary water canals and streams; establishment of agricultural research institutions and introduction of agricultural machinery and farming tools.
Dams have been promoted as an important means of meeting water needs and as a long-term, strategic investment with the ability to deliver multiple benefits for household, agriculture, and industrial purposes. Eritrea has laid important water infrastructure by itself. The strategic dams built by Eritrean mind, capital and labor in the central highland and western and eastern lowlands are the signatures of the committed development workers. Aided by agricultural machinery, modern irrigation technology and improved quality of seeds, and the dams already built and those under construction can become the production hubs of the country.
After Independence, the government of Eritrea opened and upgraded the Agricultural College in Hamelmalo to produce skilled and informed agronomists. On top of that, the government also established a number of agricultural research institutions in Halhale, Hagaz, Golij, Gahtelay, and Shambuko to work closely with the farmers. Eritrea is focusing on developing agriculture as an important national strategic plan. The country has been funneling its resources towards health, education, infrastructure and agriculture. At this point of Eritrea’s development, the best approach is to focus on the agricultural sector. By focusing on agricultural development, Eritrea can speed up its economic growth in the coming decade. The agricultural development would become an engine for growth and development of the other sectors of the economy. Therefore it is imperative to conduct extensive agricultural surveys and to evaluate the national efforts in agriculture that Eritrea has engaged in since independence.
The potential and feasibility of agriculture to be a primary factor in Eritrean economic development is uncontested. However, agriculture has been facing many challenges including, but not limited to, drought, soil degradation and desertification, traditional methods of farming, seasonal and inadequate rain, and inadequacy of agricultural infrastructure. These man-made and natural constraints continue to lower productivity and still require practical and effective solutions. To ensure social justice and real economic development that change the quality of life of Eritreans, these constraints must be removed. In this case although the need of outside assistance is understandable and acceptable, the first choice must be given to self-reliance and the participation of the people. Our economic development strategy as outlined in the charter must continue to be based on self-reliance and the full participation of our people. If we agree that without a developed economy, we cannot make Eritrea a land of justice and prosperity, without the development of agriculture, too, we cannot have a developed economy that satisfies our needs. In order to fully utilize the agricultural potential and use it as the basis for economic growth, Eritrea must undertake a productivity revolution in farming.
Agriculture can contribute to the economic growth and development of Eritrea in many ways. As an economic activity and livelihood, it can be a source of growth for the national economy by answering the question of food security. In addition agricultural production gave birth to agro-industry. It supplies raw materials to the non-agricultural sector like food processing. It also provides exports and become a source of foreign currency that can be used to import essential equipment and technology. So in Eritrea economic progress is not possible without progress in agriculture. Industrialization, manufacturing and agriculture need not be in conflict although priority is given to the latter. There is a close interdependence between agriculture and industry. The farm sector has to supply the raw material for growing industries. And at the same time the manufacturing sector has to supply agricultural inputs and tools necessary for the development of agriculture. Agricultural stagnation on the other hand is the main constraint of growth. It sinks down the great majority of the people into the sea of poverty and closes the possible ways for industry and manufacturing.
Studies on development in developing countries show that industrial growth is less effective in reducing poverty compared to agricultural growth. Agricultural development is advisable and favorable as it allows greater employment opportunities for the greater sections of the society. Agricultural transformation is crucial for achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including the reduction of poverty and hunger. Goal two of the SDGs is “zero hunger” to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. In the war against poverty we have to find ways to enhance domestic food production, livestock and dairy production and exploit the untapped fisheries.
Poverty reduction is Eritrea’s major challenge and is placed at the top of the development agenda. According to the survey conducted in 2003, 66 percent of Eritreans were unable to obtain sufficient food (in terms of calories) and other essential goods and services to lead a healthy life (I- PRSP p7). Therefore, to achieve broad-based and sustainable growth and to reduce the incidence of poverty, investment in agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing and tourism should be enhanced. The development strategy of the Government of Eritrea, as specified in the Interim poverty reduction strategy paper (I-PRSP), involves pro-poor economic growth strategy — the development strategy that promotes growth with equity, sound macroeconomic management and security which is an essential pre-requisite for development.
According to the Country Programming Framework (CPF) for the State of Eritrea 2017 to 2021, in Eritrea, 65 per cent of the population lives in rural areas. The rural population derives its livelihoods mainly from rain-fed crop production and cattle rearing and fisheries which are largely based on traditional production systems. The national economy of the country is heavily dependent on it, with 70-75% of the active population engaged in various agricultural activities (CPF; 2016, p3). The same study indicates that Eritrea has 2.1 million hectares of arable land, out of which the 600,000 hectares can be irrigated all year round. To eradicate poverty, achieve food security and secure sustained development with social justice, Eritrea should continue and enhance its determination towards the development of agriculture and agricultural infrastructures that enables to fully exploit the untapped agricultural potentials.