African food supply in perspective

28-11-2016 | Publication

The picture of Africa’s increasing dependence on imports and large-scale agricultural expansion to keep up its food supply needs nuancing. Domestic production increase was the dominant factor for food supply growth. Cross-country differences in food production trends and in the role of agricultural expansion are large. This is the main message of a PBL study on national-level food supply and land use trends in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Triggered by the image of Sub-Saharan Africa as a food-insecure continent not able to feed its own population without compromising biodiversity this study zooms in on country-specific trends in agricultural development and food supply between 1990 and 2010 in 10 countries. The factors evaluated include the food-demand side (population, income and diet) as well as the supply side (trade, cropland expansion and agricultural intensification).

Domestic production most important for food supply growth

The average food supply per capita increased in Sub-Saharan Africa by more than 10%, despite its high population growth between 1990 and 2010. Over 90% of food supply increases were caused by a growth in domestic production rather than by increases in food imports. In addition, Africa-wide average figures mask some impressive country-specific successes. Of the countries studied, Ghana is showing the most evident growth with a 55% increase in per capita food supply.

Yield growth was almost twice as important as area expansion for production growth

Farmer-led intensification and, more specifically, yield growth appeared to be the dominant factors in the growth in domestic production. Agricultural area expansion played a minor role in food production increases. Whether these positive developments will continue into the future, however, remains uncertain. In most of Sub-Saharan Africa, nutrient availability and low fertiliser use are limiting crop yield growth. Therefore maintaining soil fertility is a universal issue of concern throughout most of the countries included in this study.

Glimmers of hope

The analysis reveals glimmers of hope and points towards opportunities for more country-specific approaches in international development cooperation to tackle food security and economic development for a rapidly growing African population.