From fed by the world to food security: Accelerating agricultural development in Africa

Henk Breman, Antonius G.T. Schut, N.G. Seligman

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


This document presents the results of a search for policies and conditions that can help accelerate agricultural development in Africa. This development has been limited in many countries, as evinced by extreme low fertilizer use, low crop yields, poverty and high food insecurity. The rate of development is quantitatively described for the period 1961–2014 for almost fifty countries, those of the African mainland plus Madagascar, on the basis of data on the average cereal yield and fertilizer use. The way the rainfall impacts on the fertilizer-yield relationship has been studied, by comparing contrasting rainfall transects in Western and Southern Africa, occupied by respectively 19 and 9 countries. On the basis of data from the period 1981–2014, it is shown that soil fertility dominated over rainfall in determining crop yields. Data on the evolution of cereal yield rates over the entire 1961–2014 period have been used for dividing the 49 countries into two main groups, subdivided into four and two classes. In the first group of countries, the yields per hectare increased, in different degrees. The second group includes one class of countries with stagnating yields since 1961, and one that at present has lower yields than in 1961. Here, any increase in food production has come from area expansion. All countries have been categorized on the basis of socio-economic as well as agro-ecological conditions. The comparison of classes enables the identification of stimuli and obstacles for agricultural development. The role of policies for change has been studied as well, with a view to identifying policies that can help accelerate agricultural development in Africa. The dominance of poor soils, often combined with difficult climates, explains in part why agricultural development has been slow. In many places, the low average natural production conditions have resulted in a population density that is much too low to allow for a financially beneficial use of fertilizer and other external agricultural inputs. The high costs of transport and trade, and of food and labor, have seriously hindered agricultural development in many African countries. Market oriented production, for the national or the international market, did not become the driver for development, in contrast to countries with more suitable climates and better soils. A hopeful tendency emerges from this study: African agricultural development is taking off in response to population growth, as is shown by the cereal yield and fertilizer use adoption trends in many countries. Three quarters of the African population lives in countries with positive yield growth rates, with some of them having reached Green Revolution growth rates. Policies and conditions are presented that enable accelerated yield growth, which is a matter of life and death for the last quarter of the population, which lives in countries with no significant or negative yield growth rates, but is also of vital importance for
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWageningen
PublisherPlant Production Systems Wageningen University
Number of pages96
ISBN (Electronic)9789463950855
Publication statusPublished - 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'From fed by the world to food security: Accelerating agricultural development in Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this