Faster and more sustainable agricultural growth is essential for jobs as well as food.
When the economies of Nigeria and South Africa recently rebounded, it wasn’t oil or minerals that did the trick. It was agriculture. Faster and more sustainable agricultural growth is crucial not only to the continent’s economy, but also to its ability to feed and employ its surging population.
Agriculture still accounts for a quarter of gross domestic product and as much as two-thirds of employment in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, agricultural growth has the biggest impact on non-farm income and reducing poverty.
Unfortunately, Africa’s agricultural productivity is about half the global average, while population pressures and intense cultivation have degraded 65% of its cropland and 30% of its pasture. African agriculture, which is overwhelmingly rain-fed, is also uniquely vulnerable to climate change.
Growing more food in a more sustainable way will require buy-in from small-plot farmers, who account for 90% of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa. While there were three farmers for every city dweller in 1990, rapid urbanisation means that by 2020 one farmer will have to feed two of his or her urban counterparts. Even as regional famines have revived debate about the need to scale up agribusiness, making small-scale farming more productive, sustainable and profitable will remain key to feeding and employing the continent.