Population increase but not enough food

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The farming sector generally views population growth as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Population increase but not enough food

But I was left with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach while doing research on projected population growth in Africa over the course of this century.

The latest estimates released by the UN predict that Nigeria’s population will grow from 182 million in 2015, to 398 million in 2050, and to 752 million by 2100.

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Uganda’s population will swell from 39 million in 2015, to 101 million in 2050, and to 202 million by the end of the century. Between 2015 and 2100, Ethiopia, Kenya and the DRC’s populations will increase from 99 million, 46 million and 77 million, to 242 million, 156 million and 388 million respectively.

To provide the minimum food needed to keep the population from going hungry, Africa will have to outperform the highest agricultural growth ever recorded by any country, and innovate at a faster rate than has ever been achieved to compensate for the impact of climate change.

The task seems insurmountable.

One hopeful sign is that Africa has 65% of the uncultivated arable land left in the world and, according to the African Development Bank, average crop yields across the continent lag far behind those of the average of the world’s top 10 countries.

Average maize yield in Africa, for example, is 2t/ha, compared with the average yield of the top 10 countries of 19,2t/ha. The figures for rice and cassava in Africa are 2,5t/ ha and 9,4t/ha respectively, compared with international best practice of 8,3t/ha and 25,4t/ha. Clearly, the potential for improvement is significant.

Failure to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential will see the number of undernourished people on the continent increase from 240 million in 2015 to 320 million by 2025. In addition, if local production is not scaled up, food imports will grow from US$35 billion per year in 2015, to over US$110 billion by 2025.

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At the moment, many African economies are simply not growing fast enough to keep up with the rate at which populations are expanding, and their related developmental needs.

According to the World Bank Group’s latest Global Economic Prospects report, after falling to 3,1% in 2015, economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa slowed further to 1,5% in 2016, its worst performance since 1994.

As a result, regional per capita GDP contracted by 1,1% in 2016, following growth of 0,4% in 2015. Real GDP in sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to grow by 2,9% in 2017, barely above population growth.

At the UN’s projected population growth rate, Africa’s population will double between 2015 and 2050 to about 2,4 billion people, and then almost double again over the next 50 years.

So beyond 2025, food production would have to increase at a stratospheric rate.

If Africa fails to address the short-fall and the need to develop effective agricultural value chains over the next decade, the implication for food security will be catastrophic.