The future of farming in Africa

“Who will produce our food in the future?” Ken Giller, professor Plant Production Systems at Wageningen University, asks out loudly during a presentation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 5, 2018. According to the Food Security Report 2017, it’s the first time in 13 years that food insecurity increased globally – and the primary reason is conflict. Demand for food is increasing due to a growing global population, in urban and rural areas, and increasing wealth. By 2030 we have to feed an extra billion people and the strongest population growth is in Africa. “The potential to close yield gaps in Africa is massive, but we struggle with the conundrum of how to do this. It asks for policy that doesn’t exist at the moment”, Giller says, “this is what I frame as the Food Security Conundrum”.

Currently, farmers in Africa have yields only 10-20% of the total possible production. Their systems are challenged by low land availability, high population density and low capital availability. Using data from 13,000 rural households across 93 locations in 17 countries of sub-Saharan Africa we find that 40% of the households are food insecure. They are neither self-sufficient nor do they have a decent standard of living, an income that provides them with nutrition, shelter, health, education and a small margin. Agriculture can help to provide both food for the family and more income if they are able to close their yield gap. Giller’s research shows that good agronomy and fertilizers are a key part of the answers to increase yield. This means that policy should not focus on idealized agro-ecological or organic farming systems, but should use all of the tools available within conventional or “mainstream’ farming to enhance production.

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