Africa’s swelling population problem

Overpopulation and managing population growth are some of the most difficult subjects to write about.

Africa’s swelling population problem

This is because they not only open up the private decision of whether to have children to public scrutiny, but also because of the existing problematic assumptions about women’s ability and freedom to choose in the first place.

A recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) bravely broaches the subject in its discussion about possible ways in which to sustainably meet the growing demand for food at a time when we face major environmental challenges.

The report’s proposed solution is to grow production through increased productivity, while at the same time lowering demand by reducing food waste and achieving replacement-level fertility rates to slow population growth.

According to the report, a population growth of 2,8 billion people between 2010 and 2050 will be a major driver of the expected growth in food demand. It states that, overall, most of the world is close to achieving replacement-level fertility (2,1 children/woman), and will achieve or even dip below this by 2050.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the notable exception, with a total fertility rate of above five for the period between 2010 and 2015, and a projected rate of 3,2 in 2050.

“This population growth risks exacerbating food insecurity in a region that is already home to 30% of the world’s chronically hungry people,” the report states.

Charles Simkins, the head of research at the Helen Suzman Foundation, also discusses the challenge posed by rapid population growth in sub-Saharan Africa in his recent article, ‘The Coming Demographic Crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa’.

Simkins writes that with the region’s total population expected to grow from 969 million in 2015 to 2,1 billion in 2050, demographic pressure will be amplified by fragile states and climate change, and it will be a “miracle” if the region avoids major dislocation during the first half of the 21st century.

The WRI report suggests that if sub-Saharan Africa could move toward replacement-level fertility rates by 2050, its population would grow to only 1,8 billion.

As a result, the regional growth in crop demand would then decline by nearly one third and the region’s farmers would need to clear only 97 million hectares of forests and savannas for agriculture, rather than 260 million hectares.

The WRI and Simkins illustrate how improved access to reproductive health services, including family planning, could have an impact on reducing the average fertility rate for women in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The non-coercive way to reduce fertility is to offer contraception to all women who desire it. The demographic and health survey in Nigeria in 2013 found that 49% of married women who wanted contraception did not have access to it. The corresponding estimate for Kenya in 2014 was 25%,” writes Simkins.

The point to stress here is that it should be “non-coercive”, as opposed to a state-enforced programme such as China’s one-child policy, which had disturbing, unintended consequences such as female infanticide.

In fact, the less governments intervene in the private lives and businesses of citizens, the better.