African paradox: vast arable land, but net food importer

Despite its vast agricultural potential, Africa as a continent has remained a net importer of agricultural products over the last few decades. Statistics reveal that African countries spend around $35 billion a year on food imports, yet the continent has a lot of uncultivated land.

Trade trends

Trade trends (Source: Science20.com)

For instance, imports account for 60% of the food consumed in Gabon, according to the 2013 WTO Trade Policy Review (TPR) of CEMAC. Yet arable land there is abundant: the Population density (people per sq. km) in that country was measured at 6.19 in 2011, according to the World Bank.

And subsequently, malnutrition, especially lack of essential minerals and vitamins, causes major challenges on the African continent: It is estimated that 12 Africans die every minute as a result of hunger and malnutrition. Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment in the world while 65% of arable land in the world is in Africa. And 80% of stunted children in the world live just in 14 countries, including 8 African countries.

Little marketing

In fact, you will find for instance baby foods, cakes and other processed food commodities in African supermarkets imported from Europe and Asia, but you will barely find locally processed food commodities. And the unpleasant story goes on like that for decades.

figureReality is that these African countries are spending billions of dollars on imports far beyond their foreign exchange earnings. Analysts say the increase of food imports is a result of increasing of middle class on the continent. Then my question still is ‘if Africans are gaining more and more purchasing capacity, why don’t they use the resources in developing and diversifying their home-made products instead of looking at fortified products from abroad?’

Truth is that we have been growing traditional crops for centuries, but with no efforts to add value on them. For instance, sweet potato is one of the traditional crops that are widely grown in many African countries (and they have been consumed only boiled or baked under hot ashes for centuries), but you will, in your neighborhood’s boutiques, come across with cakes or biscuits made from sweet potatoes imported from Asia. Probably this is because our traditional crop is little marketed while it has high potential to provide many solutions of the problems we are facing now.

Should we let things going on that way? No! Then think twice. After all, there is a possibility to change this deteriorating situation. Continue reading