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Can Africa Feed The World?

While narratives over the past few decades have painted a wide range of views of Africa—as a child in need of development, a rising economic power, an imminent threat, a tinderbox of terrorism, poverty, forced migration, and disease—the truth is, as always, more nuanced. One thing is certain: the transformation that Africa has undergone in recent decades has been remarkable. Africa is shaping its destiny and should be referred to as the “African opportunity” instead of the “African threat.”

Despite all the challenges that people still face in Africa today, the Sub-Saharan countries, in particular, have immense economic potential. Africa is thus regarded as the continent of the future—for many reasons.

With 60 percent of the world's uncultivated arable land laying in Africa, it is estimated that if all the arable land in Africa were to be nurtured, with the right information and knowledge to farmers from credible research institutions and other technical expertise, Africa would be capable of feeding over 60 percent of the world population by 2050.

Here I’m talking about technologies that are specific for Africa/African farmers.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo alone could feed two billion people, according to some estimates. I know Africa can look deceptively diminutive on conventional maps of the world due to its location on the globe, which tends to exaggerate continents closer to the poles at the expense of under-sizing those near the equator. So it can be surprising to some of you to learn that China, the United States, India, and Eastern and Western Europe could all fit inside Africa, with room to spare.

Suppose someone asks you to tell them one of Africa’s biggest potential other than the natural resources. What would be your answer?

Listen to the whole podcast here:

One of Africa’s biggest potential is its people.

When you look at the Global demographic implosion, African is the only hope the world has so far. In many countries, European countries, North American, and some Asian counties, for example, looking at their demographic implosion, their social safety net will not hold in the future.

Africa has human potential, which translates both in terms of production as well and consumption potential. With its one billion primarily young people, harnessing this richness will be crucial if Africa takes its rightful place among the community of nations.

According to the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, 60 percent of Africa’s population of approximately 1 billion is under the age of 25. This represents a huge opportunity for the Continent to position itself in the global production and consumption chain.

According to the World Bank, Africa is well endowed with natural resources, including large pools of water resources and over 200 million hectares of unused but potentially arable land, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is sad is that Africa’s potential as a growth market for business remains both underestimated and misunderstood—as does the potential for business to play a transformative role in solving the continent’s biggest challenges. Africa has been one of the world’s fastest-growing regions over the past decade, and by 2030 will be home to nearly 1.7 billion people and an estimated $6.7 trillion worth of consumer and business spending.

Increased political stability in recent years and improving regional integration are making market access easier, and business expansion will generate jobs for women and youth, who represent the vast majority of the population.

Current economic growth and poverty-alleviation efforts mean that more than 43 percent of the continent’s people will reach middle- or upper-class status by 2030.

However, Africa’s vast potential is coupled with immense challenges. Lack of infrastructure and the legacy of colonialism are major hurdles Africa has to overcome if it is ever to become the agricultural superpower it aims to be.

Agriculture is the pillar of Africa’s economic development and poverty reduction

To transform the continent’s food security and fortunes, all stakeholders—including government, donors, and the private sector—must align and target their investments towards a shared goal of sustainable, equitable, and inclusive growth.

While an absolute increase in investment is essential in almost all sectors, in many of those sectors, there is an untapped margin of potential economic impact to be had from applying existing funds in a more targeted and coordinated way. For example, a major opportunity for increasing growth through a “smart” and coordinated approach can be found in the agricultural sector.

Agriculture today accounts for 32% of GDP in Africa. It is the sector that offers the greatest potential for poverty reduction and job creation, particularly among vulnerable rural populations and urban dwellers with limited job opportunities.

Growth generated by agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth in other sectors—a vital multiplier given that 65% of the continent’s labor force is engaged in agriculture.

Yet, the sector has suffered sustained neglect. As a result, Africa has gone from being an exporter of agricultural products in the 1960s to a net importer of agricultural and food products today.

We must change our views on agriculture in Africa and treat it as a lucrative business instead of treating it as a development activity or a social cause.

We need more youth involvement right now than before because the potential of African youth is infinite. They have the potential to make the change. Through creativity, innovation, and the right technology, we can tackle the issues that exist in the whole agricultural value chain.

For this to happen, four things are needed to inspire our fellow young people to take up agriculture and to enable their success:

  • The celebration of agricultural entrepreneurs

  • Improved youth access to information and practical training

  • Improved access to technology

  • And most importantly, access to financial services.

With the right policy, shared commitment, good governance, and political will, Africa will transform its food security and fortunes and will feed the world in the near future.

We must not use agriculture to manage poverty. Instead, we must use Agriculture to create wealth and resilience.




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