Sub-Saharan Africa unlikely to feed itself by 2050 - study


Cape Town - A new study paints a bleak picture of countries south of the Sahara being unable to feed themselves by 2050.

Although several studies have shown the global increase in food demand can be met by increasing yields on existing cropland, a new study called Can sub-Saharan Africa feed itself? found that countries in Africa south of the Sahara likely will be unable to meet growing cereal demand through yield increases alone.

The study 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.

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. 

“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.” 

Cereal demand between 2010 and 2050 is expected to increase by 335% in the region, and over 500% in Niger and Zambia. Population growth accounts for three-fourths of these increases. According to the research, each country in the study except Ethiopia and Zambia have populations and demand growing faster than cereal yield increases. 

The authors of the report indicated that increasing cropping intensity and irrigated production in regions that can support these activities are the more sustainable options.

They recognised that a nation’s economic growth is often dependent first on economic growth in the agricultural sector, and emphasised 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,” said Daniel Mason-D’Croz, scientist at the International Food Policy Research Institute and co-author of the study.

“Technology will be key to feeding the growing populations of this region, and so will be policies that encourage sustainable economic development.”

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