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Looking ahead: Long-term prospects for Africa's agricultural development and food security

Originally published
"A 2020 Vision for Food, Agriculture, and the Environment" is an initiative of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to develop a shared vision and consensus for action on how to meet future world food needs while reducing poverty and protecting the environment.
2020 discussion papers present technical research results that encompass a wide range of subjects drawn from research on policy-relevant aspects of agriculture, poverty, nutrition, and the environment. They contain materials that IFPRI believes are of key interest to those involved in addressing emerging food and development problems.

This discussion paper was prepared for the IFPRI 2020 conference "Assuring Food and Nutrition Security in Africa by 2020: Prioritizing Actions, Strengthening Actors, and Facilitating Partnerships," Kampala, Uganda, April 1 -- 3, 2004. Designed in close consultation with a distinguished Advisory Committee, the conference is the centerpiece of a longer-term consultative process on implementing action for African food and nutrition security. This process is cosponsored by the European Commission (EC); Canada Fund for Africa; Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD); Centre Technique de Coopération Agricole et Rurale (CTA); Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action); Development Cooperation Ireland; Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, Germany, with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung (InWEnt); Ministère des Affaires étrangères, France; Regional Land Management Unit (RELMA); The Rockefeller Foundation; Sasakawa Africa Association; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); World Food Programme (WFP); and World Vision International. The 2020 Vision Initiative also gratefully acknowledges support from the following donors: Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Danish International Development Agency (Danida); and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

The views expressed in this paper, which has undergone peer review, are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by or representative of IFPRI or of the cosponsoring or supporting organizations.


Sub-Saharan Africa is the only developing region in the world where food insecurity has worsened instead of improved in recent decades. In this discussion paper, Mark W. Rosegrant, Sarah A. Cline, Weibo Li, Timothy B. Sulser, and Rowena A. Valmonte-Santos show that this discouraging trend need not be a blueprint for the future. The research contained in this discussion paper was conducted in preparation for the IFPRI 2020 Africa conference "Assuring Food and Nutrition Security in Africa by 2020: Prioritizing Actions, Strengthening Actors, and Facilitating Partnerships," held in Kampala, Uganda, April 1 -- 3, 2004. The authors examine the implications of several different policy scenarios based on IFPRI's International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT). This model, developed at IFPRI in the early 1990s, has been continually updated to incorporate more food sectors and geographic regions. In this paper, the authors use IMPACT to assess the consequences of a wide range of policy and investment choices for Africa, including a business as usual scenario (continuation of current policy and investment trends through 2025), a pessimistic scenario (declining trends in key investments and in agricultural productivity), and a vision scenario (improving trends in investments and hence in agricultural productivity and human capital), as well as scenarios for more effective use of rainfall in agriculture, reduced marketing margins, and three different scenarios for trade liberalization. The wide variation in results reveals how much these choices will matter. For example, the number of malnourished children under five years old in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2025 is projected to be 38.3 million under business as usual, 55.1 million under the pessimistic scenario, and 9.4 million under the vision scenario. It is our hope that this research will clarify the steps needed to help stimulate the actions contributing to approaching the vision scenario.

Joachim von Braun
Director General, IFPRI

Executive Summary

Food security in Africa has substantially worsened since 1970. Although the proportion of malnourished individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa has remained in the range of 33 -- 35 percent since around 1970, the absolute number of malnourished people in Africa has increased substantially with population growth, from around 88 million in 1970 to an estimate of over 200 million in 1999 -- 2001.

Yet this discouraging trend need not be a blueprint for the future. New research from IFPRI shows that policy choices and investments made now could substantially improve, or further worsen, the prospects for food security in Africa over the next two decades. This paper explores and evaluates the consequences of various policies related to food security in Africa based on projections for the year 2025, focusing on agricultural production. It uses IFPRI's International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT) and IMPACT -- WATER to consider how several different policy scenarios are likely to affect the supply of, demand for, and trade of crops. The results of these policy scenarios show that the number of malnourished children, one important indicator of food security, could rise as high as 41.9 million or fall as low as 9.4 million by 2025.

The business as usual scenario assumes a continuation of current trends and existing plans in food policy, management, and investment, including declining investments in the agricultural sector. Agricultural production grows only modestly to 2025. Although per capita kilocalorie consumption rises and the percentage of malnourished children under age five falls from 32.8 to 28.2 percent, the absolute number of malnourished children rises from 32.7 million in 1997 to 38.3 million in 2025.

The pessimistic scenario envisions a future in which trends in agricultural production and nutrition deteriorate by comparison with business as usual. African countries experience a decline in both domestic and international investments in education, health, clean water, and agricultural research. Agricultural productivity and yield growth decline compared with business as usual, whereas harvested area growth increases at the same slow rate as in business as usual. Malnutrition in Africa proliferates under this scenario. Per capita kilocalorie availability in Sub-Saharan Africa increases only slightly, and the total number of malnourished children under five years old in Sub-Saharan Africa escalates from 32.7 million to 55.1 million in 2025.

The vision scenario attempts to show what type of transformation would be necessary for Africa to reach the MDG target of cutting the proportion of people suffering from hunger in half by 2015. In this scenario national governments and international donors increase investments in education, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, water-harvesting technologies and agricultural extension, female schooling, and clean water access in Africa. Population growth slows, but gross domestic product and crop productivity increase significantly. Under this scenario available kilocalories per capita increase markedly in Sub-Saharan Africa, while the total number of malnourished children is reduced to 9.4 million in 2025. Most notably, the percentage of malnourished children under five years old meets -- or comes close to meeting -- the proposed MDG target of cutting the percentage of malnourished children in half by 2015 in all African regions.

IMPACT was also used to model other types of scenarios related to specific technologies, policies, and investments. Three scenarios show that improved water harvesting can result in increased effective rainfall for agricultural use in rainfed areas, with consequent increases in agricultural production and declines in cereal prices. A reduced marketing margins scenario showed the effects of improvements in rural infrastructure, marketing, and communications. This scenario leads to an increase in cereal production and demand in Africa, while reducing the percentage of malnourished children in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2025 to 25.2 percent, compared with the 26.8 percent projected under business as usual. This percentage difference is equivalent to 2.3 million fewer malnourished children under five years old in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2025. Finally, three scenarios were modeled to assess the effects of different levels of trade liberalization on Africa. These scenarios all raise commodity prices to varying degrees, but full trade liberalization also offers substantial net economic benefits to Africa. Many of the challenges facing Africa's agricultural sector stem from a few root causes, including poor political and economic governance in many African countries, inadequate funding for the agricultural sector, poor water resources management, and neglect of research and development. The strategies for addressing these challenges should take into account local, natural, and human resources, as well as the political and economic agenda of each country. However, the various scenarios assessed here point to common policy priorities for addressing food and nutrition security in Africa. These priorities include (1) reform of agricultural policies, trade, and tariffs; (2) increased investment in rural infrastructure, education, and social capital; (3) better management of crops, land, water, and inputs; (4) increased agricultural research and extension; and (5) greater investments in women.

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