One of the most important economic activities on the African continent is agriculture. It provides employment for two-thirds of the working population on the continent, while each country provides 30-60% of GDP and 30% of exports. However, only 6% of the total area of the continent is covered by agricultural land.

Except in countries with significant populations of European origin – such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya – agriculture is largely limited to subsistence and depends significantly on an inefficient tillage system, in which the land is temporarily cultivated with simple tools until its fertility declines, then abandoned for a time to allow the soil to regenerate. In much of Africa, arable land was mostly allocated by a complex system of communal tenure and ownership, rather than through individually acquired rights, and peasant farmers had the right to use relatively small and scattered estates. Such a system causes low agricultural productivity. All of this is relatively limiting and raises concerns about their role in accelerating soil erosion and devastation. In areas of finished crop production, land has become private rather than community property, and cultivation is intensive.

One of the reasons for low productivity is largely due to the lack of cooperation between farmers and ranchers. However, the need for a sharp increase in food production to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population remains paramount. Many countries are working on developing highly successful crop varieties and designing more suitable crop systems. One product of such research is a genetically improved strain of maize (corn). Corn itself is not a balanced food because it lacks some amino acids, but a scientific breakthrough in the mid-1960s resulted in an increase in amino acids, lysine and tryptophan in certain new varieties of corn called opaque or high-lysine, strains These varieties initially gave low yields , were more susceptible to diseases and pests and had a soft texture that was not desirable. Growing programs, however, have corrected these shortcomings, and new strains have begun to improve the nutritional value of the diet in Africa (which consists mainly of corn preparations).

In Africa, all the most famous cereals are produced – corn, wheat and rice. Corn has the widest distribution; it is grown in almost all ecological zones. The highest yields per acre were recorded in Egypt and on the islands of the Indian Ocean, Reunion and Mauritius, areas where production is irrigated. Millet and sugar cane are also produced, but mainly in the Savannah regions of the continent. Rice production and consumption have become increasingly important and are closely linked to areas of rapid urbanization. The most important rice-producing countries are Egypt, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tanzania and Madagascar. Wheat production was once limited to South Africa, North African countries and the highland zones of Ethiopia and Kenya, but new varieties were grown (under irrigation) on countries in the Savannah region, such as Nigeria.

Fodder is grown in subtropical areas of North Africa and mountainous areas of East and South Africa. The species of clover used for animal feed is also grown in Egypt and Sudan, parts of which are irrigated. Protein-rich legumes are produced widely, usually sown together with other crops. They include velvet beans, cowpeas, soybeans, and lablab Wide beans and vegetables are also produced in North Africa. Peanuts and nuts are widely grown in West Africa, both for domestic consumption and for export.

The cultivation of indigenous plants has expanded tremendously, especially in West and Central Africa. Potatoes are grown in higher regions such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Madagascar, as well as in areas of the Mediterranean climate in North and South Africa. Sweet potatoes have a tropical and subtropical distribution, while the plantation is intensively grown in tropical forest zones.

Types of fruits that are grown are bananas, pineapples, dates, figs, olives and citrus, while the most produced vegetables are tomatoes and onions. Bananas are most common in Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Madagascar. Pineapple is widespread in Ivory Coast, Congo, Kenya and South Africa. Date palm is mostly grown in Egypt, Sudan and other North African countries. The largest producers of oranges are South Africa, the Mediterranean countries, as well as Ghana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Congo and Madagascar. After Sudan, South Africa is the largest producer of grapefruit.

Tomatoes and onions are widespread, but the largest producers are the Mediterranean countries. Vegetables, such as cabbage and cauliflower, are grown in the same region, from where it is possible to export some quantities to southern Europe. Important vegetables in tropical Africa include peppers, okra, eggplant, cucumbers and watermelons.

Tea, coffee, cocoa and grapes are grown in Africa, too. Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are the largest producers of tea, while Ethiopia, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Madagascar are the main producers of coffee. Cocoa is basically a tropical forest culture. The cultivation is concentrated in West Africa, and the main producers are Ivory Cost, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. All these crops are mainly grown for export. Large price fluctuations have conditioned African countries to form international cartels with other producer countries, in an effort to regulate the market and form prices. Grapes are produced in North Africa and South Africa, for wine production for European markets.

As for crop production crops, large areas of Africa are under cotton for textile production. The main producing countries are Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Zimbabwe and Mali. Hemp agave production is also important, especially in East Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar, as well as Mozambique, Angola and South Africa. Some countries, especially Nigeria, promote the cultivation of kenaf (one of the most important fibers).

The oil palm, from which palm oil and palm seeds are produced, grows in secondary shrubs in tropical forest zones. There are large plantations in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Coconut palm is an important product in the Comoros, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania. Nuts are mainly grown in the wooded regions of Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The cashew tree is grown to a limited extent in East Africa, and to a lesser extent in the coastal countries of West Africa. Tobacco is widely grown as an export crop in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Nigeria and South Africa. Sugarcane is also widely grown, but mainly for domestic consumption. Major producers include South Africa, Egypt, Mauritius and Sudan.

Growing economy and urbanization, high food prices, demographics and climate change are changing the environment in which agriculture is located in Africa. Agriculture is the largest employer. In East Africa, 70% of the population living in poverty live from agriculture. Agriculture in Africa leaves a big social and economic footprint. More than 60% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is a small farmers, and 23% of GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa comes from agriculture. Africa has great agricultural potential that is untapped. According to some estimates, it can produce 2-3 times more cereals, which would increase world production by 20%. A similar increase can be applied in the production of horticultural crops and fodder.

In order to achieve its goal, investments are needed. Sub-Saharan Africa will need eight times more fertilizer, six times more improved seed, at least $8 billion in basic storage and as much as $65 billion in irrigation. It will also require a lot of investment in basic infrastructure, such as roads, ports and electricity, plus policy improvements and regional trade flows.

Analyzes have shown that out of 44 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, 9 countries make up 60% of the total potential, while Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania make up half of that.

Africa has a large part of unused agricultural land that could increase production. It is estimated that it covers an area of 480 to 840 million hectares. Most of this country is not inaccessible, either due to undeveloped infrastructure, war zones and conflicts, or due to legally protected areas. Looking at the dimensions that have access to the market, population density and agro-ecological conditions, it suggests that only about 20 million hectares to 30 million hectares is a country that could be cultivated in Sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in nine countries. This represents a potential increase of 10%. This amount could increase as new investments in infrastructure make some inaccessible areas accessible.

While the number of medium farmers is growing, the growth of small producers would be the biggest growth drivers. The global trend is that urbanization leads to the consolidation of land size as people leave rural areas, allowing for larger, mechanized agriculture. This trend varies from country to country. For example, in Nigeria, there are about 100 farms larger than 50 hectares, while most farms are smaller than 5 hectares in other countries.

African agriculture plays a major role in supplying the local market, while it would be very important to improve the competitiveness of crop food compared to major trading partners. Sub-Saharan Africa has already shown a competitive advantage in selected crops, such as coffee, tea and cocoa. For some of these crops, such as cocoa, Africa has the lowest production cost in the world. The same is not necessary for food crops, for which mere yield improvement is often not enough to improve cost competitiveness.

Although Africa’s agricultural potential is significant, its realization requires practical, field efforts and innovation. Increased distribution, for example, is also an important part of the process, where costs would be shared with companies and warehousing.

Understanding the potential that agriculture has in Africa and addressing the challenges that prevent true expansion could increase production two to three times more than it does today. To make this a reality, investment in inputs, infrastructure and markets will be needed to open up the possibility for millions of small farmers in Africa to participate fully in productive and commercial agriculture. Although the challenges are numerous, there are relatively few investment opportunities for innovations in accessing the market along the supply chain. Engaging farmers in demand, partnership with other players can help build markets to realize Africa’s significant potential.


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