Agriculture / Consumption / Food Security

Mission critical: Relentless upscaling of Africa’s agricultural production


Farmland in Mali (photo by World Bank).

‘. . . [A]ccording to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, . . . [Africa] will . . . need to dramatically increase its agricultural efficiency. Right now, Africa imports 20% of its cereal needs, despite having a quarter of the world’s arable land. . . .

With a population expected to expand by another 1.3 billion people by 2050, Sub-saharan African countries will have to import half of all needed cereals in the next 30 years, if drastic changes to agricultural methods aren’t taken, the study concluded.

‘In addition to closing the gap between actual and potential crop yields, farms will need to increase crop intensity, or the amount of crops grown on the same field within a year, and expand irrigation.

‘“If intensification is not successful and massive cropland land expansion is to be avoided, [sub-Saharan Africa] will depend much more on imports of cereals than it does today,” the authors concluded.

‘Sub-saharan Africa is the only region in the developing world where agricultural productivity on average is falling, a trend that some blame on governments’ lack of investment in an industry that employs more Africans than any other sector. In 2003, most African states signed the Maputo Declaration, which commits governments to allocating at least 10% of their budget to developing agriculture. Only four countries (p. 62), Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, had met the quota in 2014.’

Read the whole article at Quartz: Africa, home to a quarter of the world’s arable land, will soon have to import half of its grains, 14 Dec 2016.

Read the scientific study: Can sub-Saharan Africa feed itself? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencespublished ahead of print 12 Dec 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1610359113 (

Excerpt from the science paper
‘.  . . The question whether sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) can be self-sufficient in cereals by 2050 is of global relevance.

Currently, SSA is amongst the (sub)continents with the largest gap between cereal consumption and production, whereas its projected tripling demand between 2010 and 2050 is much greater than in other continents.

We show that nearly complete closure of the gap between current farm yields and yield potential is needed to maintain the current level of cereal self-sufficiency (approximately 80%) by 2050.

‘For all countries, such yield gap closure requires a large, abrupt acceleration in rate of yield increase.

‘If this acceleration is not achieved, massive cropland expansion with attendant biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions or vast import dependency are to be expected. . . .’

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