7 November 2012

Africa: Could Africa Feed the World?

editorial

With 60 percent of the world's remaining uncultivated arable land, Africa not only has the potential to meet its own food demand, but could be an important contributor to global food security.

For decades African agriculture has primarily been associated with drought, underdevelopment and stagnation. For good reason - the sector has long suffered from policy neglect and under-investment turning Africa into a net food importer with the lowest yields of any region globally. It is estimated that the continent spends $50bn a year on food imports.

Yet Africa's agriculture sector is likely to feature prominently in efforts to ensure global food security in the coming decades - to some extent, it does not have a choice. Since the 2008 food crisis, which sparked riots in 12 developing countries and ushered in a new age of volatility, the hunt has been on to find new producers to avoid further shocks or a full-blown crisis, now and in future. Driven by the changing diets of fast growing middle classes across the developing world mean that production will have to increase by 70 percent in 2050.

With 60 percent of the world's remaining uncultivated arable land, Africa not only has the potential to meet its own food demand, but could be an important contributor to global food security. Investment into land, at times controversial, has spiked in recent years and is representative of growing interest in the region's agricultural potential.

Kick-starting the sector has been declared a priority by most governments in the region, with donors scaling up their commitment to its development. Africa's agricultural development now even features prominently within G8 meetings.

Unlocking the sector's potential faces steep obstacles, including underdeveloped infrastructure, insufficient reform and restrictive policy environments, a changing climate and a lack of research and development. Yet few issues are likely to shape its development in the coming years as the role of the smallholder farmer.

The vast majority of productive activity is in the hands of such farmers, who are estimated to account for as much as 70 percent of all livelihoods on the continent. Yet most are unable to meet their own food requirements, not to mention producing commercially for national, regional and global markets. Connecting smallholders to those markets is essential, and This Is Africa is taking an in-depth look at how the transformation of agricultural value chains can address this, and in turn kick-start the sector. Our coverage starts this week from Addis Ababa, where we are attending "Making The Connection".

More extensive coverage in the coming weeks will feature perspectives from leading decision makers in business, policy and development across our print, digital and social media platforms.

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