Can sub-Saharan Africa feed itself?

Martin K. Van Ittersum*, Lenny G.J. Van Bussel, Joost Wolf, Patricio Grassini, Justin Van Wart, Nicolas Guilpart, Lieven Claessens, Hugo de Groot, Keith Wiebe, Daniel Mason-d’Croz, Haishun Yang, Hendrik Boogaard, Pepijn A.J. van Oort, Marloes P. van Loon, Kazuki Saito, Ochieng Adimo, Samuel Adjei-Nsiah, Alhassane Agali, Abdullahi Bala, Regis ChikowoKayuki Kaizzi, Mamoutou Kouressy, Joachim H.J.R. Makoi, Korodjouma Ouattara, Kindie Tesfaye, Kenneth G. Cassman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

535 Citations (Scopus)


Although global food demand is expected to increase 60% by 2050 compared with 2005/2007, the rise will be much greater in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Indeed, SSA is the region at greatest food security risk because by 2050 its population will increase 2.5-fold and demand for cereals approximately triple, whereas current levels of cereal consumption already depend on substantial imports. At issue is whether SSA can meet this vast increase in cereal demand without greater reliance on cereal imports or major expansion of agricultural area and associated biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies indicate that the global increase in food demand by 2050 can be met through closing the gap between current farm yield and yield potential on existing cropland. Here, however, we estimate it will not be feasible to meet future SSA cereal demand on existing production area by yield gap closure alone. Our agronomically robust yield gap analysis for 10 countries in SSA using location-specific data and a spatial upscaling approach reveals that, in addition to yield gap closure, other more complex and uncertain components of intensification are also needed, i.e., increasing cropping intensity (the number of crops grown per 12 mo on the same field) and sustainable expansion of irrigated production area. If intensification is not successful and massive cropland land expansion is to be avoided, SSA will depend much more on imports of cereals than it does today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14964-14969
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Cereals
  • Food availability
  • Food security
  • Food self-sufficiency
  • Yield gaps


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