Food Security in Africa: The Challenges of Researchers in the 21st Century

  • James B. Kung’u


Food production in most of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has not kept pace with the population increase over the past three decades. In many countries, food security remains a serious problem. It contributes both to high rates of under- and malnutrition, poorer learning in school, and lack of development in general. In Africa as a whole, food consumption exceeded domestic production by 50% in the mid-1980s and more than 30% in the mid-1990s. Food aid constitutes a major proportion of net food trade and in many countries it constitutes more than half of net imports. Despite food imports, per capita dietary energy supply (DES) remains relatively low; with about one-third of the countries having per capita DES of less than 2,000 kcal day−1 which is lower than the minimum recommended intake.

Food imports to Sub-Saharan Africa rose from US$ 1.1 billion in 1970 to US$5.3 billion in 1985 contributing to increased external debt from US$5.4 billion to US$58.8 billion during the same period. In 1998, external debt stood at US$230 billion. Since the 1980’s global recession and introduction of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), Africa’s debt burden has grown from 30% of GNP to over 100% at present

Agriculture in Africa is not only a vital source of food but also the prevailing way of life. An average of 70% of the population lives by farming, and 40% of all exports are earned from agricultural products. One-third of the national income in Africa is generated by agriculture. Crop production and livestock husbandry account for about half of household income. The poorest members of society are those who are most dependent on agriculture for jobs and income. On average, the poor in SSA spend 60-80% of their total income on food.

Agricultural and economic growth must rise in Africa to realise basic development goals in the 21st century. Only a few countries are currently recording a positive growth in agricultural production while the majority of countries are seeing an increase in the area under agriculture. One consequence of the growth in agricultural area could be a doubling by the year 2050 of cultivated land area which will be great cost to the natural environment unless there is greater investment in agricultural management and technology on existing cropland. The scale of food imports in Africa has fostered dependence on food production in the rest of the world. Many Sub-Saharan African countries face the risk that supplies will fluctuate drastically with the rise and fall of grain reserves and prices on international markets. This paper tries to identify major challenges the African scientists must overcome in order for the African farmers to increase their agricultural production and achieve food security and sustainable economic growth in the 21st century.


Food security land degradation Research 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • James B. Kung’u
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ScienceKenyatta UniversityNairobiKenya

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