Immense opportunities in Africa’s agricultural production

According to McKinsey, Africa is currently home to 60% of the world’s total uncultivated, arable land. That’s the opportunity. Sub-Saharan Africa imports $15 billion in food crops (grains, edible oils, and sugar), primarily from regions in Asia and South America.The United Nations once stated that as many as 24 countries are contending with food crises across sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 240 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, or one person in every four, lack adequate food for a healthy and active life. And record food prices and drought are pushing more people into poverty and hunger. These problems are only going to get worse as the upward trajectory of urbanisation casts its shadow across most of Africa which will require more food to be transported and distributed within cities, increase demand for water and also increase demand for agricultural and food products.

Gaps in Africa’s Agricultural Productivity (1970-2011)

The demand for food staples is predicted to double by 2020 as urban populations grow by 4% each year. Much of that growth is made up of low-income earners who spend the majority of their pay on basic food items.

Why food importation?

Today, Africa does not grow enough food to feed its own population and African countries have tended to satisfy increasing demand through more expensive imports from the global market. The agriculture sector in many African countries is in a parlous state. It’s a situation primed for hunger and unrest.

Imports are not necessarily a bad thing but can play an important role in food security and sustainability, particularly when countries face constraints to production, such as energy, technology, land and water availability. The United Nations reports that the factors that have contributed to this include extreme weather conditions, natural disasters and insurgencies.

Shares of the world Agricultural export (1970-2009)

Low Agricultural production rate

Everyone knows the basic facts about Africa; especially that farm productivity needs to grow at a higher rate than the global average in order to prevent mass hunger. There have been positive strides in ensuring smallholders become involved in digital agriculture.

An estimated 33 million people about 13% of all sub-Saharan African smallholders and pastoralists are already registered for services such as weather updates and market linkages.Currently, farm productivity is low, fallow periods are shorter, and farm communities are losing young people to rural-urban migration. Despite the African governments having used many policy instruments so far, farm yields improved only marginally. A considerable proportion of farmers still use traditional processes that depend heavily on historical norms that is the hoes and cutlasses that haven’t been redesigned for centuries. This presents an opportunity and a challenge for African agriculture.

The opportunity

Many African countries have the advantages of fertile soil and the possibility of year-round farming and more than one harvest per year. This, together with the fact that a successful agriculture sector can have a multiplicator effect and the potential to create significant employment and transform a country’s economic fortunes, is seeing African governments actively promoting the agricultural sector.


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