Friday, June 07, 2013

We can feed the world

It is so ingrained that many people cling to the idea that Africa can’t feed itself—and maybe never will. That conclusion, however common, is wrong.  In Uganda in East Africa and in the 15 countries of West Africa, food production now outpaces population growth.  10 African countries are posting annual output increases of 6 percent, more than twice the rate of population growth.  Even infamously food-insecure Malawi and Ethiopia are growing record amounts of crops and even export surpluses to their neighbors. Long ignored, Africa’s “forgotten” crops, including cassava, sunflower seeds, and cowpeas, are being re-discovered and have in the last two decades rapidly expanded in production.

This in spite of use of high-quality seeds and fertilizer is minimal.  Africa has the greatest amount of idle arable land on the planet. For example, the Guinea Savannah zone covers around 600 million hectares in West Africa—through Uganda and Tanzania and encompassing Malawi, Zambia, Angola, and Mozambique—which is around one-third of the total area of sub-Saharan Africa. Of this, 400 million hectares can be used for agriculture. However, less than 10 percent of this area is being cultivated today. Less than 5 percent of land in the sub-Sahara being  irrigated.

 African farmers in the early 1960s supplied 8 percent of the world’s tradable food. That figure stands at less than 2 percent today. Sub-Saharan Africa can produce enough food to feed its peopleand can feed some of the rest of the world too.

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