Food consumption rate in Africa rising 10 times faster than production

Low productivity of smallholder agriculture and growing population are pushing the demand for forest resources

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 15 September 2016
By 2020, one full-time African farmer will be expected to feed two urban dwellers. Credit: CIAT/ Flicker
By 2020, one full-time African farmer will be expected to feed two urban dwellers. Credit: CIAT/ Flicker By 2020, one full-time African farmer will be expected to feed two urban dwellers. Credit: CIAT/ Flicker

Many African governments have put agriculture on the top of their development agenda. While national budgets for this vital sector are increasing and private companies have started investing in Africa’s agriculture value chains, much more still needs to done to sustain this agricultural transformation process that’s gaining momentum.

The ‘Africa Agriculture Status Report’, released by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), an alliance led by Africans with roots in farming communities, highlights major trends in African agriculture, emerging challenges for Africa’s food systems and identifies policies to raise productivity of farmlands. It also identifies “appropriate technologies and institutions that can propel” African agricultural transformation, besides exploring how this transformation can address rural poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition and unemployment among the people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Pressure of population on agriculture

  • SSA accounts for roughly 12 per cent of the world’s population (950 million). This share will rise to 31 per cent by 2050.
  • SSA is likely to experience expanding rural population between 2015 and 2050. The rural Africa is expected to have nearly 60 per cent more people in 2050 than it has today.
  • In 1990, there were three African farmers for every urban dweller. By 2020, one full-time African farmer will be expected to feed two urban dwellers.

Government role

  • Policies under Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, Africa’s framework for transformation in agricultural sector, don’t get implemented due to weak inter-ministerial coordination and lack of fund.
  • Although the volume of public agriculture expenditure in Africa has increased, the amount spent as a share of total public expenditure has been less than 4 per cent.­­­

Degrading land, plummeting productivity and rising labour cost

  • About 65 per cent of arable land in SSA has been degraded, costing farmers about US$ 68 million of lost income every year. Over 180 million people, mostly smallholder farmers, are affected by this loss.
  • Smallholder farmers cultivate lands that don’t respond to inorganic fertiliser and are unable to benefit from yield gains offered by plant genetic improvements.
  • Low productivity of smallholder agriculture and growing population (over 1.1 billion) are pushing the demand for forest resources like firewood and land for large-scale commercial and small-scale agriculture. This is triggering deforestation and forest degradation.
  • Historical trends show that cereal yields and agricultural value added by each worker are much lower than in Asia and Latin America. This is despite an increase in adoption of improved varieties of seeds and inorganic fertilisers.
  • The slow rate of growth in crop yield is attributed to minimal adoption of complementary technologies, such as fertiliser and improved crop management practices.
  • As economic transformation processes have pushed up labour wages, it has become difficult for farmers to adopt labour-intensive practices unless they provide high returns.

Dependence on imports

  • Per capita food consumption in Africa has been rising 10 times faster than per capita food production, leading to an increase in food imports.
  • Africa’s growing demand for processed and high-value foods is increasingly being supplied through imports. The total agricultural imports rose by 62 per cent between 2007 and 2011 to reach $37 billion.

Source: Africa Agriculture Status Report 2016

Source: Africa Agriculture Status Report 2016


  • The poverty rate (those surviving for less than $1.25/day) has dropped moderately from 45.5 per cent in 1995–2003 to 38.2 per cent in 2008–2014.
  • According to FAO, 220 million people on the continent are undernourished (consuming less than 2100 kcal/day). Similarly, at least 50 million African children suffer from stunting.

Gender inequality in agriculture

  • A key obstacle to improved agricultural productivity, food security and income of rural women is their lack of security of land tenure.
  • This affects the ability of women farmers to make decisions on what crops to grow, what technologies to use and what to sell. Apart from limited decision-making powers, they are also deprived of accessing credit and participating in associations that process and market agricultural products.

Market-related constraints

  • High transport costs, limited access to lucrative market segments and the inability to store product to take advantage of seasonal price rises have reduced earnings from farming activities in Africa, especially for smallholder farmers.
  • High trade costs are linked to poor road infrastructure, lack of competition, lack of effective regulation of the freight logistics sector and hurdles to cross-border trade in the form of formal and informal taxes, bribes and procedural delays.
  • Small-scale farmers are unable to supply their produce directly to major buyers in formal markets like supermarkets, wholesalers and exporters even though a surge in demand offers income-boosting opportunities.


Sub-Saharan Africa needs to invest in constructing quality rural feeder roads, thus reducing transportation costs, preventing post-harvest losses of perishable produce, and opening up lucrative market for rural farmers. The need for accelerating efficient delivery of inputs should be linked to better roads.

For this, the governments need to prioritise public investment in rural roads and promote incentives for private investment in marketing and storage infrastructure.

Most countries in SSA have to develop efficient and transparent marketing systems to increase the returns to farmers. Moreover, cooperative organisations need to help smallholders get linked to emerging value chains. Currently, the region is not attracting private investment in agricultural value chains due to lack of rules-based enabling policy and regulatory environment. These barriers need to be broken.

With the continent’s share of global agricultural emissions projected to rise to about 30 per cent by 2030 from the present 15 per cent, the countries have to walk a tightrope to ensure that economy doesn’t take ecology a hostage.

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