Can sub-Saharan Africa feed itself?

  • 02nd January 2017
  • by secretary

A new study (December 27, 2016 | vol. 113 | no. 52, 6 pages) finds that countries in Africa south of the Sahara likely will be unable to meet growing cereal demand through yield increases alone. An anticipated 2.5-fold population increase by 2050, combined with income growth, is expected to triple current cereal demand in the region and will require a multi-pronged approach to food security.

The study, “Can sub-Saharan Africa feed itself,” examined 10 countries in Africa south of the Sahara that jointly make up the majority of population and arable land in the region: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The researchers found that cereal yields would need to increase from 20% of their potential to 80% to maintain current levels of self-sufficiency. Even with this increase in yield more farmland would be needed to attain full self-sufficiency, which is in short supply in much of the region. Ensuring food security in the region will therefore still require increased trade and food imports.

“Self-sufficiency is not a goal in itself, as food security can be achieved through a variety of pathways,” said Keith Wiebe, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Institute and a co-author of the report. “Boosting crop yields is essential and can go a long way to help meet future food demand; but these countries will also need to increase incomes in other sectors of the economy to ensure adequate food supply – be it from domestic production or imported from regions projected to produce a surplus.”

A nation’s economic growth is often dependent first on economic growth in the agricultural sector, and emphasized the importance of public and private investment in agricultural research and development. “These countries must innovate to increase crop yields because there simply isn’t enough land to continue farming as usual. “Technology will be key to feeding the growing populations of this region, and so will be policies that encourage sustainable economic development.” Daniel Mason-D’Croz, scientist at the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-author of the study.