AFRICA'S savannahs cover a mind-boggling 600 million hectares – and 400 million hectares of that are cultivable, according to the president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina.

At present, just 10% of this area is cultivated, a mere 40 million hectares. Speaking at the 2017 World Food Prize-Borlaug Dialogue symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, Mr Adesina unveiled a new programme to invest in eight countries' agriculture sectors to harness “one of the major underutilised resources in Africa.”

He noted that Africa’s savannahs were better than the savannahs of Brazil – a country notable for turning its savannahs into agricultural wealth – because Africa’s soils were not acidic and therefore did not need liming, as had to happen in Brazil.

“The initiative will start by bringing approximately two million hectares of savannah in eight African countries — Ghana, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, and Mozambique — under the cultivation of maize, soybean, and livestock production in optimum conditions,” he sdaid, with the goal of doubling production in those countries.

“Africa must learn from the experiences that have worked elsewhere, while tailoring the interventions to the specific realities of Africa. We must ensure that small, medium-scale and large-scale commercial farmers co-exist in a way that allows opportunities for all,” said Adesina.

The AfDB vice-president of agriculture, human and social development, Jennifer Blanke, added that the Bank was determined to increase productivity so that Africa would become a net producer and exporter of agricultural produce.

“The idea is to have more job creation and create the next generation of agripreneurs. We can’t do everything. So, we’ve broken it down to certain number of value chains that we are going to tackle in Africa.

“If you look at the savannah, it has massive potential. It covers about 25 countries and about 240 million people are depending on agriculture in these areas and about half of them are living in poverty.”