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Asean Affairs    13  October  2011

Feeding the world in 2050

Adapted from an article by Dr. Papa Abdoulaye Seck, director general of the Africa Rice Center

AseanAffairs     13  October 2011

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The world population is expected to increase. Much of this increase will be concentrated in developing countries, with sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) leading the way, as its population is estimated to double from 770 million in 2005 to 1.5 billion by 2050. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global food production must increase by 70 percent to feed the world—a challenge that has never been as demanding as now, in the face of climate change and soaring food prices, which inflict serious damage on the food security of the poorest households.

Moreover, the rate of yield growth of major cereal crops dropped from 3.2 percent per year in 1960 to 1.5 percent in 2000. While environmental degradation heightens in several parts of the world, the potential for an increased use of agriculturally critical natural resources such as land and water is declining. Climate change is aggravating the severity and uncertainty of weather events.

Lessons learned from the past indicate that advances in science and technology can expand the world’s agricultural frontier and sufficient food can be produced to nourish the growing population in the future.

The SSA will play a significant role in global food security in the coming decades. Unlike Asia and Europe, where the availability of potential land and water for agriculture is declining, Africa still has a large reservoir of under-used agricultural land and water resources.

Only 150 million hectares out of the total cultivable area of 875 million hectares are currently harvested. The continent is using about 4 percent of its water resources and has annual renewable water resources of about 5.4 trillion cubic meters.

Moreover, several staple food crops are produced at competitive costs in SSA. The recent upward trends in agricultural commodity prices reinforce the competitiveness of agricultural production in SSA.

To feed around 9 billion people in 2050 agriculture in developing countries needs a net investment of about US$83 billion per year, says FAO. In the last two decades, agriculture was neglected by both developing countries and donors. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that official development assistance to agriculture fell by 43 percent between the mid-1980s and 2008.

In SSA, agriculture remains a powerful engine for economic growth, food security, and poverty reduction, accounting for 35 percent of GDP, 75 percent of employment, and 40 percent of exports. Estimates say that a dollar of farm income increases the overall economy (e.g., $1.88 in Burkina Faso and $1.48 in Zambia). Despite this, SSA governments have failed to prioritize the sector and to reverse decades of policy bias against agricultural production.

In 2003, African countries adopted the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme in Maputo, Mozambique, and pledged to increase agricultural spending by at least 10 percentof the total government budget by 2008. But, only eight countries have reached the 10% budget quota for agriculture, and the continent’s average is only 4–6 percent.

Without consistent investment in its own domestic agricultural resources, SSA cannot fully seize the opportunity for transforming this strategic sector.

To feed the world in 2050, an intelligent combination of four factors is essential: appropriate technologies, good infrastructure, favorable economic and institutional environment, and the preservation of natural resources. Only then can science be certain of making the greatest impact on resource-poor farmers and the burgeoning urban population in 2050.

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AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
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