African farmer holding seeds

Facing Africa's food security challenges

Increasing the productivity of Africa’s agricultural systems is one of the most significant challenges facing global agriculture. CSIRO is working with African scientists and institutions to help African’s develop long term solutions.

  • 3 December 2010 | Updated 27 June 2012

Overview

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Over the past 50 years, the world more than doubled food production. This increase in agricultural production came through improved understanding of farming systems, new high-yield crops, expanding irrigation, and synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

We face a new challenge, with a 50 to 80 per cent increase in food demand expected by 2050 (on 2010 levels), due to the global population expected to reach more than nine billion people and continued trends in consumption, diet and food waste.

This challenge is made all the more significant with increased demand for resources like water, energy and arable land. The prospect of climate change also raises the uncertainties inherent in meeting future food demand.

The food security challenge in sub-Saharan Africa is complex and paramount, with approximately 200 million people across the continent currently affected by chronic malnutrition and a population now exceeding one billion. By 2050 that figure is expected to more than double.

The agricultural sector plays a key role in Africa. Most Africans depend on small-scale farming systems as the primary source of their livelihoods, with women playing a major role in the production, processing and marketing of agricultural produce. Agriculture is therefore a vital factor in efforts to combat poverty and food insecurity. Farming households build their livelihood strategies around their livestock and crops, whilst city dwellers (who now account for more than half of the continent’s population) obtain virtually all of their food from local markets.

Improving agricultural productivity in Africa will be crucial to meet the increasing food and nutritional demands.   However, agriculture also plays a key role in soil fertility, natural resource management and environmental protection so agricultural production systems need to be intensified sustainably and with greater integration across key sectors – from the farmer to the consumer. 

Like Africa, Australian agriculture is based largely on extensive farming systems on soils of low inherent fertility and under high climate variability, so there are many lessons and tools that can be shared between these continents.