20 November 2016

Africa: can the continent end hunger and become food self-sufficient by 2025?

The NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, in collaboration with the Pardee International Center for International Futures, University of Denver, USA, recently published a report analysing conditions that need to be fulfilled for Africa to be successful in eradicating hunger by 2025 (Ending Hunger in Africa - The elimination of hunger and food insecurity on the African continent by 2025 - Conditions for Success).

The objectives of the report are to:

  1. (i)analyse past evolution of hunger and food insecurity in Africa,

  2. (ii)to project this evolution into the future, under a scenario where policies would not change significantly, and

  3. (iii)outline what should be done “to put Africa on track to eliminating hunger and food insecurity as soon as possible”.

On the first point, the authors of the report acknowledge that, even though, according to FAO’s estimates, the proportion of undernourished people has decreased in Africa since the early 90s, their number has been increasing regularly. Indeed, this number evolved from around 180 million to about 220 million nowadays (FAO/SOFI), the situation being of a particular concern in East Africa and for children less than 5 years old. Moreover, with food production on the continent growing much less than demand for food, an increasing share of the food consumed in Africa is being imported (around 1/6th of food consumed in the continent is currently imported from abroad).

On the second point, a projection of trends observed in the past suggests that, if no change occurs in policies adopted by African governments, the number of undernourished is yet  likely to further increase by 2025, even though their proportion in total population is projected to fall to around 12% (from about 17% in 2015). As for the share of the food imported, it is projected to increase to 25% of total amount consumed. This clearly implies that Africa will not eliminate hunger by 2025, until radical changes are brought in the way the continent manages its food system.

On the third point, authors estimate that to eradicate hunger in Africa, average food consumption per person should increase by around 18% in 10 years, a performance comparable to what China did between 1980 and 1990. This would imply increasing food production by an estimated 61% in 10 years, if at the same time food imports were to fall below 10% of total demand. We observe that this additional production would represent quite a jump, comparable to the increase observed in China in the 80s and 90s (around 70% increase every 10 years), but considerably more than the maximum growth achieved in India during the 80s (46% only). The dramatic implications in terms of soil and environmental degradation observed in those two countries, as food production growth was taking place, should also be kept in mind.

Such a rhythm of growth, authors explain, could be attained, but with difficulty. In their view, this could be done by adding 39 million hectares of cultivated land (equivalent to the whole area of Zimbabwe, or all the agricultural area of Ethiopia), at an annual rate of expansion just below to that observed in Brazil during the last 50 years when agriculture spread over the Amazonian rainforest and the Cerrado savanna. It would also require increasing yields by 3.2% every year, a rate of growth achieved by India during the Green Revolution. The effort would need to be substantially higher in East and Central Africa than in West Africa, unless trade internal to the continent were further developed, an option that the report does not consider in any detail. These figures illustrate the extraordinary effort required and, in our view, the environmental and social risks this effort may entail, if growth of food production in Africa is not carefully crafted. There have already been attempts in the past to promote the Green Revolution in Africa, based on the promotion of extensive use of agrochemicals, irrigation and hybrid seeds, and they have failed miserably. In particular, they have failed to include the mass of poor farmers who do not have the means to purchase the commercial inputs and equipments required. Moreover, results of this approach show, in Latin America and Asia, that it is not sustainable, leads to high loss of biodiversity, massive deforestation, soil degradation and water pollution, marginalisation of hundreds of millions of small farmers, not to mention a considerable expansion of greenhouse gas emissions [read our article on Food and Climate]. Even if such a jump could be performed in the coming 10 years, it is unlikely that the rhythm of growth could be sustained after 2025, when food demand will continue to grow after that date.

Authors rightly point at the fact that producing is not enough: for people to have access to the food produced, they need to have the income to purchase it. Referring to the cases of countries that have substantially reduced prevalence of hunger, such as China, Viet Nam or even India, they note that such change has gone with a tripling of GDP/inhabitant. We note however that, even though these countries have substantially reduced prevalence of hunger, there is still in their population an estimated 339 million undernourished persons (12% of total population) and they cannot, therefore, seriously be considered as having eradicated hunger. An increase of GDP/inhabitant is not sufficient to resolve the hunger problem as it should occur together with a reduction of income equalities. The authors of the report acknowledge that the World Bank projected growth by 17% of GDP/person by 2025 would still leave one third of the population in poverty (with a daily income of less than $1.90), but they give very few hints as to how such levels of growth could be achieved.

Not only should growth be “inclusive” (i.e. contributing to an improvement of income distribution), but it would also have to be supported by income transfers to the poor. Simulations made by the authors, using Pardee International Center’s International Futures Forecasting System indicate that social spending of African governments should be raised from current 8% of GDP to 11.6% by 2025, which would roughly be the current average level worldwide. In volume, this would require, according to the authors, between now and 2025, $538 billion and establishing a rather efficient distribution system with a minimum of leakages. Efforts would be particularly demanding in East Africa where social spending is currently very low (only 3% of GDP).

Our take from the report:

  1. Its value added is to demonstrate that ending hunger and making Africa simultaneously globally food self-sufficient by 2025 are overambitious objectives that are unlikely to be achieved in a sustainable manner. It would require a mammoth task requiring massive expansion of agriculture, record yield increases and that would be extremely costly, financially and from an environmental point of view.

  2. This means that African governments will need to make choices on what their priority objective should be. In our view, it should clearly be hunger eradication for ethical, economical and practical reasons. Ethical, as saving lives should be the absolute priority; economical because it has been amply demonstrated that improving food security and nutrition is a very profitable investment as it contributes to create an extremely valuable development capacity for the future; practical as it will be easier (not easy though) to increase social spending for food access in the short and medium term than to achieve spectacular growth of food production. It would also be more sustainable as it would set the human ground for future economic growth and would not deteriorate the natural resource base that the adoption of old-fashioned Green Revolution recipes would imply.

  3. The report is however disappointing, as it does not bring new ideas to the discussion and limits its analysis to only one technological solution (i.e. Green Revolution package) that has never picked up in Africa and has well known drawbacks documented in the literature. It is a hastily presented quick fix. In many ways, this report is much less ‘imaginative’ in terms of solutions proposed than what the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency had proposed in 2014, when advocating for sustainable agricultural development options such as ecological agriculture and agroforestry [read our article]. Its thinking shows a retreat back from the 2014 proposals to a more traditional view of agricultural development, more traditional for example than what is envisaged in the AAA initiative (Adaptation of African Agriculture) promoted by Morocco during the COP22 held in Marrakech. It is also disappointing as it create a very strong link between hunger eradication with food self-sufficiency, when it is well known that there are two different issues [read], and that it makes no comment on the qualitative aspects of food consumption which have huge implications on what needs to be produced and on the intensity of the production effort required. Lastly, considering the title of the report, one would have expected to read more on the practical conditions (policies, programmes…) required to meet Africa’s food challenge.

  4. Ending hunger in Africa will be an expensive endeavour, far beyond the financial capacity of Africa alone. The rest of the world will need to provide it some financial support  as it is in its interest that Africa succeeds. Moreover, it will be a worthwhile investment, particularly for Europe, so much concerned by Africa’s stability and by limiting immigration flows from Africa to Europe. But Europe will have to take this very seriously and not believe that a ridiculous 1.8 billion euros promised in Valetta, on year ago, will do the job. [read our article]

Our own view at is that, while it is essential to give absolute priority to eradicate hunger in Africa by 2025 and provide direct support to the undernourished [read], it is not reasonable to try and achieve food self-sufficiency of the continent by adopting unsustainable solutions from the technical and social point of view. Rather it is preferable to take time to develop appropriate solutions based on serious agricultural research that will lead to an inclusive and sustainable agricultural development able to bring a lasting end of hunger while offering opportunities for improving livelihoods of the rural poor.


To know more:

  1. -Hedden, S. et al., Ending Hunger in Africa - The elimination of hunger and food insecurity on the African continent by 2025 - Conditions for Success, NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency and Pardee International Center for International Futures, University of Denver, 2016

  2. -The Initiative for the Adaptation of African Agriculture to Climate Change (AAA), Addressing the Challenges of Climate Change and Food Insecurity, White Paper, 2016

Earlier articles on related to the topic:

  1. -Climate is changing - Food and Agriculture must too - Towards a “new food and agricultural revolution”, 2016

  2. -AfDB’s new agricultural strategy: for a so-called “modern” agriculture that will be neither sustainable nor inclusive and will only benefit a minority, 2016

  3. -Facts and figures on world hunger, 2015

  4. -The reasons why the Green Revolution might still not be an option for Africa, 2015

  5. -The Africa Progress Panel proposes more of the same old recipes to tackle hunger and poverty in Africa, 2014

  6. -Africa commits to eliminate hunger by 2025: will priority be given to a sustainable family agriculture? 2014

  7. -Seven principles for ending hunger sustainably, 2013


Last update:    November 2016

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