Africa plans to become a global food exporter by 2050, as the continent currently imports about $50 Billion worth of agricultural products per year. This goal is expected to be achieved through the AfCFTA agreement where Intra-African agricultural trade is projected to increase by 574% after the elimination of Import tariffs by 2030. By the year 2035, the total exports would increase by nearly 29 percent relatively to the baseline. Agriculture exports will experience smaller gains of 49 percent for the intra-African trade and 10 percent for the extra-Africa trade. In terms of volume, it is USD 191 Billion.

Food Status in Africa

One part of Africa

Many African countries have doubled the importation of agricultural food crops even after the ratification of AfCFTA. Over the years, Sub-Saharan Africa has remained a net importer of food and agricultural products despite having 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated and unutilized arable land. In 2023 during the Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, President Putin in his closing remarks, offered, among other things, a shipment of 50,000 tons of grain aid to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic.

Somalia is experiencing one of the worlds’ most challenging food crises that has lasted for over three decades. Climate change, conflict and global politics have dramatically increased the food insecurity in the country. The Ukraine war has worsened the food crisis in the country, as more than 90 percent of Somalia grain was imported from Russia and Ukraine. In Ethiopia, one in six of the 120 million population need food aid because of drought, conflict and rising inflation. Just in February 2024, Ethiopia’s ombudsman confirmed the death of at least 351 people in Tigray and 21 in Amhara regions caused by starvation. In neighboring country Eritrea, two-thirds of the total population of 4.5 million are desperately in need of food, according to the government figures.

About 282 million people across the continent are facing food insecurity and are undernourished. This is more than twice the share in any other region of the world. Some 18 percent of Africans are undernourished, compared to the world average of 9 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa-mainly western Africa, eastern and Middle Africa-are driving high hunger levels, with the trend over the past decade showing an upsurge of 116.7 million in the population of undernourished people who had increased from 164.9 million in 2012 to 281.6 million by 2022.

The Other Part of Africa

“Notably in the case of rice, Tanzania surplus production caters to the needs of many other countries, reducing reliance not just within the AfCFTA, but also SADC and COMESA on imports from outside the region” Amath Pathe Sene, Managing Director of the Food Systems Forum.

Not far from these food insecurity countries mentioned above, there is Tanzania. A country praised with its agricultural mechanization and modernization approaches. Statistics showed that Tanzania produced food crops to the surplus, as it produced 20.4 million tonnes of food crops in the 2022/23 against estimated demand of 16.39 million tonnes in 2023/24. This food self-sufficiency ratio of 124 percent, surpassing the 120 percent threshold.

In a period of five years from 2018 to 2022 the country sold vegetables worth $1.01 billion and exported grain crops (mostly maize and rice) worth $999. In terms of rice, a common food crop among SADC community, Tanzania exported an average of 136,377.97 tonnes to Uganda, Rwanda (37,759.57), Burundi (4,829.27), Congo DRC (4,796.33) and Zambia (404.00). From 2020-2023, Kenya imported an average of 83,087 tonnes of Maize from Tanzania, which is equivalent to 70 percent of the whole Tanzania exported maize during that period. South Sudan imported 6,400 tonnes of Maize, Zimbabwe (6,037), Congo DRC (5,995), Burundi (5,695), Rwanda (5,382), Uganda (2,784) and Sudan (1,667).

Global Food Exporter: Is it Possible?

These statistics show how much African countries produce less food than its demand. More than 12 countries allocated within Sub-Saharan depend on Tanzania in feeding its people with the exclusion of the most food-in-need countries of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia. Despite importing more food from Tanzania than any other country, it is estimated that around 4.4 million people living in arid and semi-arid areas in Kenya still face high levels of Acute Food Insecurity.

Africa is not on track to meet the food security and nutrition targets of the Sustainable Development Goal and the Malabo targets of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2025. After a long period of improvement between 2000 to 2010, hunger has worsened substantially and most of its deterioration occurred between 2019 and 2022. An estimated 868 million people were moderately or severely food-insecure in Africa in 2022 and more than one-third of them-342 million people-were severely food insecure. As more than two-third of the population in Eastern Africa, Central Africa and Western Africa faced moderate or severe food insecurity, meaning they did not have access to adequate food.

As a home of 282 million hungry people in 2022, Africa represented 38 percent of the estimated 735 million people that faced hunger globally. With 134. With 6 million people, Eastern Africa had the largest number of undernourished, compared to 62.8 million in Western Africa, 57 Million in Central Africa, 19.5 Million in Northern Africa, and 7.6 Million in Southern Africa. Africa should begin focusing on its food sustainability before planning for the exportation.

It’s not too late for Africa: What should be done?

Africa should turn back to the Maputo Declaration, an agricultural transformation framework that was adopted as the resolution for the country to commit its 10 percent annual public budget to agriculture and rural development. For instance, in 2020, 17 years after its ratification, only four countries (Lesotho, Malawi, Ethiopia and Benin) had allocated its 10 percent annual public expenditures in agriculture. The African government should adopt and implement agricultural policies that considerably reduce the vulnerability of farmers and processors due to their structural dependence on inputs.

These governments should invest and provide subsidies in seeds, fertilizers and pesticides so as to reduce the burden to the small scale farmers who are the main food producer. Also empower women and youth, including through greater access to and control over land and productive resources, an essential step towards closing the gender gap in agriculture, leading to considerable gains in productivity and production.

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