Can Africa feed 2.5 billion people by 2050?

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Sub-Saharan Africa risks starvation by 2050 if relevant authorities continue with their culture of ‘business as usual’, scientists warn.

More than half of global population growth between now and 2050, is projected to occur mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to UN data, yet the continent is ill-prepared to effectively feed its people when that time comes. Scientists are now warning that the continent must act now if it is to feed over 2.5 billion of its people thirty years from now.

By 2050, according to the data, the bulk of the world’s population growth will take place in Africa: of the additional 2.5 billion people projected between 2015 and 2050, a whooping 1.3 billion will be added in Africa to its 1.2 billion current population. Only 0.9 billion will be added in Asia and only 0.2 billion in the rest of the world.

According to a report released yesterday by National Academy of Sciences on its site, Africa will be able to grow enough cereals to feed its growing population by 2050, but only if it breaks a culture of complacency and starts now to invest more in agriculture.

The report discloses that that Sub-Saharan Africa cereal importation could increase from current 20 percent to 50 percent by 2050 if drastic and practical measures are not taken to avert the situation.

In the report, the researchers suggest that one way to meet growing demand is to expand the land area to grow crops, but this would mean cutting down forests or encroaching on protected nature reserves.

This idea, the report said, may receive resistant from local communities, unwilling landowners and nature lobbyists since it would lead to loss of biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

However, it is possible for the continent to feed a population expected to grow 2.5 times by 2050 by producing more food on the land already being planted, report co-author Kindie Tesfaye said.

Tesfaye is optimistic that the desperate situation can still be turned around to make food sufficiency possible saying, “if the continent can break the culture of business as usual, Africa can not only feed itself, but can be a bread basket of the world”.

For this to happen, it would need investment to boost crop yields, an increase the number of crops grown on the same plot of land, and an expansion of irrigation and to increase agriculture financial support in terms of GDP from willing governments.

Complacency among donors is also a problem, he said. After international food prices soared in 2008, both donors and African governments invested more in agriculture, but investments fell once the prices levelled off, he said.

“African countries need to look at what is coming in the next 50 or 60 years, in terms of feeding their population. That has to be planned ahead of time,” Tesfaye said.

The researchers looked at ten countries which together represent 54 percent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa and 58 percent of its arable land. They found that cereal yields in most countries surveyed are growing slower than population and demand, while the area planted has increased 14 percent in the last 10 years.

East Africa Editor