Africa’s agricultural productivity has long lagged behind the rest of the world. Crop yields grew across Asia from 1960 onwards, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, but stagnated in Africa where cereal yields stayed largely unchanged for the 30 years of the green revolution.
As a consequence, many African countries have met increased demand for food through overseas food imports, a wasted opportunity given that the continent boasts 60% of the world’s available arable land. This over-reliance on imports is also a risk, as trade restrictions and price hikes in volatile times leave populations at risk of food insecurity.
If climate change isn’t tackled, Africa will simply never begin to fulfil its potential. It will only make things harder for the continent’s millions of smallholder farmers who rely on farming for their income or livelihood. According to the Adaption of African Agriculture initiative (AAA), the slump in crop yields could reach 20% in 2050, even if global warming is contained under 2°C.
The good news is that we know investment in agriculture works and we have seen encouraging progress. Research from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) shows how governments that invested 10% of spending in agriculture and supported the sector, have seen productivity and GDP rise, and poverty rates decline since 2005.
Momentum has been building for several years now with promising public and private sector initiatives such as Grow Africa, AGRA, the Malabo Declaration, the New Alliance, and now the triple AAA initiative. African governments have committed to allocate at least 10% of public expenditure to agriculture.
Agriculture is also increasingly seen as an engine of economic growth and a source of jobs for the continent’s large youth population. The Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa has noted that the continent’s food market could be worth US$1 trillion in just 15 years.
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