The African breadbasket
On the first World Food Day in 1945, people around the world celebrated the creation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the launch of the first coordinated global action to combat hunger. This year, on the 70th World Food Day, countries are mobilising behind the Sustainable Development Goals – one of which calls for the elimination of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, together with the creation of a more resilient and sustainable food system. Can it be done?
With the world population growing rapidly (to an estimated 8.5 billion by 2030), the impact of climate change becoming increasingly apparent, and the amount of arable land dwindling, there can be no denying that achieving this goal will be a daunting challenge. But for Africa, which boasts 60% of the world’s arable land and climates conducive to a tremendous diversity of crops, striving to do so represents a remarkable opportunity to ensure food security for Africans (one in four is undernourished) and boost its economy by becoming a major food exporter.
Though many African economies have experienced rapid growth in recent years, the agricultural sector has remained stagnant. Indeed, African agriculture is still dominated by small-scale farmers who lack access to productivity-boosting technology, focus mainly on a narrow range of products, and remain poorly linked to markets, manufacturing, and the broader economy. Beyond undermining food security – Africa remains a major food importer – low agricultural productivity contributes to the persistence of rural poverty, even as a middle class emerges in many of Africa’s cities.
Africa can and should be the world’s breadbasket. But to realise this vision – and to do it in an environmentally sustainable way – its agricultural sector must undergo a genuine transformation that entails higher capital investment, significant crop diversification, and improved linkages to burgeoning urban consumer markets. Moreover, Africa must start manufacturing more value-added food products for both internal consumption and export, especially to countries like India and China, where demand is