Population and food supply: the challenge for Africa
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CTA. 1995. Population and food supply: the challenge for Africa. Spore 57. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Africa now needs 14 million tonnes more grain each year than it is producing. With the population growing at three percent per year and agricultural production increasing by only two percent, that shortfall will reach 50 million tonnes by 2000. How...
Africa now needs 14 million tonnes more grain each year than it is producing. With the population growing at three percent per year and agricultural production increasing by only two percent, that shortfall will reach 50 million tonnes by 2000. How can African producers narrow the gap between supply of grains and other staples and rising demand? Hunger is not unique to Africa but it is more widespread and acute in the continent than any other region of the world. In the past food shortages have been bridged, to some extent, by purchases and by food aid, but neither of these options will offer adequate relief in the future. Africa's decreasing ability to purchase food is shown by FAO estimates that by 2010 Africa will need US$28.7 billion to import food to supplement regional production and yet is unlikely to be receiving more than US$12 billion from exports of agricultural products (see Spore 52 pp 14). Meanwhile, competition for exportable grains is likely to increase as China may boost imports from 12 million tonnes currently to as much as 100 million tonnes per year by the year 2000. That alone would account for half of the world's current grain exports. India and other countries will also increase imports and are likely to have the finance to pay for them. Attainable target There is no alternative for Africa but to increase food production regionally. This is not an unattainable target. Despite prevailing low productivity, environmental degradation and urban migration, Africa's situation though desperate is by no means hopeless. However, rapid action is undoubtedly called for in terms of policy changes that will priorities rural development and, with that, emphasise the production, processing and marketing of food products. There is no denying that the rate of increase in population in Africa is among the highest in the world, and many see this as a fundamental contributor to under-development. However, there are many examples world-wide where increased population has made possible increased production. As Clifford Longley wrote at the time of the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, Sept.'94), 'Each new mouth comes attached to two useful hands and a brain, by which more food can be produced.' Furthermore Per Pinstrup-Andersen, the Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has observed, 'What people are missing is the fact that food production is a major source of income for the poor, and the prospects for economic development in developing countries are linked to agricultural progress. If people in the rural areas of poorer countries could grow and sell more food locally, they could both feed themselves more reliably and become prosperous enough to buy food produced elsewhere. This requires more investment in markets, roads, farm credit and other boosts for agriculture'. Breaking the downward spiral Increasing population, leading to increasing food demand, has often led to cultivation of marginal land and subsequent land degradation. This has then reduced the resource-base from which to get future production. To achieve increased production sustainable, this damaging spiral of demand, degradation and diminished resources must be broken and many scientists believe that more intensive agricultural methods could boost yields and yet reduce environmental degradation by concentrating cultivation on the most productive soils. Marginal land would be retained for pasture, forestry or sylvi-pasture. Integrated farming systems utilizing annual crops, perennial trees, appropriate livestock and fish ponds could maintain and even restore soil fertility while also providing higher yields of a diversity of food products (see Spore 53). The outlook for raising yields of two principal food staples is particularly good in Africa where crops have received less attention from research in the past than food crops elsewhere. Don Winkelmann, Director General of CIMMYT observes, 'With better maize and cassava and other improvements we can probably make agricultural production grow at more than the current 2% per year.' Research will undoubtedly make a major contribution to potential production increases but a limiting resource in much of Africa will be water. However, traditional water harvesting and irrigation systems, often developed at one or two foci could become much more widely known and applied. So also could techniques of agroforestry, intercropping and urban agriculture. Intercropping fruits and nuts (banana, passion fruit and macadamia) with vegetable crops has been refined at Kenya's Horticultural Research Institute, Thika, and intercropping of food crops (maize) with nitrogen fixing trees (sesbania) or pulses (lablab and chickpeas) has been developed at ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) in Ethiopia. In both cases, however, scientists at the research institutes admit that rather than take credit for developing new techniques, their contribution has been to offer improvements on traditional African practices. A further example of successful intensive land use is the intercropping of sugarcane with food crops in Mauritius, which has contributed in large measure to national self-sufficiency of several foods. Subsistence farming - not enough While greater food self-sufficiency at family level is an admirable target, a reliance on subsistence agriculture is an indication of the failure to develop markets and agro-industries. Agro-industries add value, provide employment and frequently provide substitutes for costly imports. They also start the process of infrastructural development of stores, transport, financial services and subsidiary economic activities that contribute to overall national development. There is no denying that Africa faces a considerable challenge in providing a substantial proportion of its food requirements. But many believe that the continent has the natural resources of soil, water and people. What is often lacking are the financial resources and the political commitment to prioritise the rural sector in national development. It is often observed that Africa is prone to drought and famine and that there is little that can be done to prevent either. However, it is poverty not drought that results in famine. In its publication 2020 Vision, IFPRI's conclusion is that, 'Unfortunately, the most prevalent behaviour exhibited by governments and the donor community towards poverty has been reactive - often poverty has led to famine.' If poverty were reduced by increasing rural incomes, there would be less famine and greater prosperity in Africa, despite droughts and population increase.
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