It is expected that between now and 2050 the world population will increase by 2.3 billion. Much of this increase will be concentrated in developing countries, with sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) leading the way, as its population is estimated to double from 770 million in 2005 to 1.5 billion by 2050.
According to FAO, global food production must increase by 70% to feed the world—a challenge that has never been as demanding as now, in the face of climate change and degrading environment.
SSA will play a significant role in global food security in the coming decades. Unlike Asia and Europe, where the availability of potential land and water for agriculture is declining, Africa still has a large reservoir of underused agricultural land and water resources.
Only 150 million hectares out of the total cultivable area of 875 million hectares are currently harvested. The continent is using only 4% of its water resources and has annual renewable water resources of about 5,400 billion cubic meters. Moreover, several staple food crops are produced at competitive costs in SSA.
In SSA, agriculture remains a powerful engine for economic growth, food security, and poverty reduction, accounting for 35% of GDP, 75% of employment, and 40% of exports. Estimates say that a dollar of farm income increases the overall economy (e.g., $1.88 in Burkina Faso and $1.48 in Zambia). Despite this, SSA governments have failed to prioritize the sector and reverse decades of policy bias against agricultural production.
In 2003, African countries adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme in Maputo, Mozambique, and pledged to increase agricultural spending by at least 10% of the total government budget by 2008. But, only eight countries have reached the 10% budget quota for agriculture, and the continent’s average is only 4–6%.
Without consistent investment in its own domestic agricultural resources, SSA cannot fully seize the opportunity for transforming this strategic sector. At the same time investments in agricultural research and extension must be substantially increased, as agricultural productivity in SSA generally lags behind the rest of the world.
Closing the yield gap for the main staple food crops in SSA is critical to increase agricultural productivity while meeting the regional and global food security challenge. The Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice)’s recent simulation illustrates this point well. By bridging the attainable yield gap in the upland, rainfed lowland and irrigated ecologies and doubling the areas under irrigated and lowland rice production, SSA can meet its requirements in rice and even produce a surplus of 5 million tons for export.
AfricaRice has shown that integrated crop management (ICM), a step-wise approach of integrating new technological options into production systems with full farmer participation, is a promising way for SSA, in view of the large gaps between actual farmers’ yields and attainable yields under better management.
The use of ICM techniques increases the productivity and profitability of irrigated rice and maintains the quality of the resource base. In Senegal, for example, ICM technology options increased average rice yields in irrigated areas from 4 to 6 tons per hectare.
However, even with proven agricultural technologies, dissemination and adoption by farmers are hampered by limited effective demand, restricted access to information and credit, as well as poor institutional and infrastructural development.
To feed the world in 2050, an intelligent combination of four factors is essential: appropriate technologies, good infrastructure, favorable economic and institutional environment, and the preservation of natural resources. Only then can science be certain of making the greatest impact on resource-poor farmers and the burgeoning urban population in 2050.