Sustainable agricultural intensification in Sub-Saharan Africa : design of an assessment tool

S.J.E. Verzandvoort, C.L. Beek, J.G. Conijn, J. Froebrich, H.C. Jansen, I.G.A.M. Noij, C.W.J. Roest, J. Vreke, M.J.M. van Mansfeld

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


The demand for agricultural products (food, feed, fibre, and biomass for other purposes) produced in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will increase for the coming decades. In addition, the global climate change will largely impact on the agricultural sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. Major challenges for the agricultural sector in SSA are that agricultural production systems depend on resources that are for a large part non-renewable, and that the current agricultural practices in SSA are major contributors to environmental degradation. The Government of the Netherlands addresses food security and sustainable agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa. In order to support this process, the Ministry of EL&I has asked for ‘a concept’ to evaluate options for agricultural developments, which are aimed at increasing productivity and improving livelihoods, whilst safeguarding or improving ecosystems. This report presents analyses of yield gaps in Africa, nutrient use and requirements for crop land, and of fresh water production and crop evapotranspiration. The yield gap analysis was based on spatial databases and simulations of potential (irrigated) and water-limited maize yields with a crop growth model. The yield gap in Africa varies largely, ranging from 5 to 60%. The potential improvement for land productivity is large (up to 7 times the actual production levels), even without the help of irrigation. The analysis of nutrient use and requirements for cropland in Africa showed that closing the yield gap requires a higher N and P availability to crops. The analysis of the fresh water production per capita and evapotranspiration from cropland revealed that changes in cropland management, e.g. targeted to increase crop yields and evapotranspiration, can have a dramatic effect on fresh water production and may call for cropping systems that are efficient in water use. From a water use perspective the intensification of agriculture should be assessed at the regional (river basin) level, taking account of the spatial position of the country with respect to water-stressed basins. In the allocation of water resources, priority should be given to the areas where the highest return on water resources can be achieved in terms of types of water use or production systems. The report presents a tool to presented to evaluate strategic plans for the development of agriculture to increase food security in Sub-Saharan Africa. The tool can assist in identifying and evaluating alternative strategies for agricultural intensification in a participatory process. Apart from the Ministry of EL&I, other potential actors and stakeholders in such a process are the Dutch embassies in the pilot countries, governmental planning agencies, the private sector (local and foreign investors), NGOs (local and international NGOs), and knowledge institutes.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWageningen
Number of pages62
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

PublisherAlterra Wageningen UR
ISSN (Print)1566-7197


  • agricultural production
  • sustainable agriculture
  • sustainable land use
  • crop yield
  • water management
  • nutrient requirements
  • food security
  • africa south of sahara


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