Bridging Africa’s food deficit gap

STATS show, by 2050, Africa’s population will rise from the current 1,2 billion to 2,4 billion while historic trends also reveal people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) increased from 290 million in 1990 to 414 million in 2010. Meanwhile, the region currently spends more than US$35 billion on food imports annually.

Meanwhile, World Vision has reported that roughly 257 million people across the continent (20% of Africa), are facing a hunger threat with 237 million people in SSA chronically undernourished. At the epicentre of Africa’s food insecurity is a rapidly increasing population, urbanisation, and limited agri-food productivity which demand sustainable solutions in building “healthy and well-nourished citizens” — the 4th Goal of Africa’s Agenda 2063.

Paradoxically, African agriculture also has the greatest promise: a growing population, vibrant markets and half the world’s uncultivated arable land. In effect, the food deficit poses both a threat and an opportunity. No wonder the President of the African Development Bank, Adesina has remarked “the next generation of billionaires will come from agriculture.”

The challenge

The average African farm performs at only about 40% of its potential. And on present trends the continent will only produce 13% of its food needs by 2050. More than 60% of the population of SSA is smallholder farmers, and about 23% of SSA’s GDP comes from agriculture.The Nigerian tomato deficit paints a clear illustration of some of the food/agro challenges affecting the continent. Tomato paste, like rice, is an esteemed staple in Nigeria’s gastronomic repertoire. Nigeria is Africa’s second largest producer of fresh tomatoes with an annual production of 2,3 million tonnes, according to a 2018 report by PwC. Inconsistently, the West African nation is the continent’s third largest importer of tomato paste, spending about $360m annually (on imports from China and Europe).   Vital to the matrix, 40-50% of tomato production in Nigeria is lost because of poor handling, processing and preservation practices. Across Africa, research has shown that between 20-40% of agriculture production in Africa is lost in transportation. Africa’s common cash crops are cocoa, cotton and coffee. Initially, cocoa was a smallholder crop but has grown in popularity with Ivory Coast and Ghana accounting for 70% of the global demand, yet capturing just 3% of the global chocolate industry revenue which is valued at US$100 billion annually.

Africa’s agricultural sector is also grappling not only with a lack of quality seeds and fertiliser but also poor yields, pests and diseases and staggering post-harvest losses due to poor storage and transportation infrastructure.

The antidote

Referring to the Nigerian tomato case study, some of the country’s conglomerates believe they can fill this supply gap. The Dangote Group jumped into the fray having invested an initial US$20 million into a tomato processing plant while Lagos-based food manufacturer Erisco Foods, Spanish food multinational GBfoods and Singapore-headquartered Olam International have taken strides to achieve the same.

The Maputo Declaration urged AU member states to allocate 10% of their national budgets towards agricultural activities’ investments. Essential to the equation, adopting modern agricultural technologies has the potential to significantly boost African agriculture and make it more productive, competitive, sustainable, and inclusive. These modern agricultural technologies include sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) enabled and digital technology devices, automated machinery, and information technology. The combined efforts of the private sector and governments across the continent are imperative at solving the present predicament. It is access to markets and finance, land tenure security, investment in agro-processing, the establishment of African commodities markets, knowledge and technology, and the right policies which are necessary going forward.

  •  Mabunda is an analyst and TV anchor at Equity Axis, a leading financial research firm in Zimbabwe. — ebenm@equityaxis