People, resources and food in sub-saharan Africa
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Bunting, Hugh. 1988. People, resources and food in sub-saharan Africa. Spore 13. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44783
Hugh Bunting Professor Hugh Bunting of Reading University, UK, has been Professor of Agricultural Botany (1956-1973), and Professor of Agricultural Development Overseas (1974-1982). Taken as a whole, sub-Saharan Africa has the potential resources...
Hugh Bunting Professor Hugh Bunting of Reading University, UK, has been Professor of Agricultural Botany (1956-1973), and Professor of Agricultural Development Overseas (1974-1982). Taken as a whole, sub-Saharan Africa has the potential resources to produce enough food to meet its needs for the foreseeable future, if the right agricultural techniques are applied. But because of uneven distribution, 19 countries will sooner or later cease to be self-sufficient unless the surplus and deficit nations work together. Non-food crops could be vital to survival for potential deficit countries. In 1984 the population of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding the Republic of South Africa) was about 400 million. By the year 2025 it is expected that the regional total will be about 1,325 million. In spite of the difficulties and disasters at particular times and places, published nutritional data and the growth of population itself suggested that on average sub-Saharan Africa has food enough to support the decreases in infant and child mortality, which are the main reason why populations are increasing so rapidly. The data also suggest that average dietary intakes were not very different from those of 1964-66 (2,138 kcal and 51.9 9 protein), even though population increased from 210 to 404 millions. However, of the average energy intake in 1981 -3, about 9% was derived from cereal imports compared with about 2% in the mid-1960's; and the corresponding proportions for protein were 12% and 3%. In recent years a significant part of these imports has been provided by food aid. At the same time as Africa has become marginally but significantly more dependent on food inputs, the annual per capita output, both of cereals and of roots and tubers, has declined. Consequently, most African governments wish to increase the domestic production of food in order to meet as much of the needs of their populations as is economically reasonable. How far this is also technically possible has been studied in great detail for many commodities in the AgroEcological Zones Project of the FAO. Environments are classified according to climate, terrain and soil, and eco-physiological modelling is then used to estimate the average technical potential production of biomass and yields of different crops and of rangeland, at three levels of technical inouts The low level corresponds to customary practice, and yields equivalent to 275 - 475 kg/ha of cereals. The intermediate level includes improved varieties of economic plants and animals, some use of fertilisers, simple protection and soil conservation measures, improved field equipment and some supplementary power and yields equivalent to 1,200 - 1,800 kg/ha of cereal. The high level includes the most productive sustainable practice known for each environment at the present time, including fertiliser and mechanisation, but not irrigation and yields equivalent to 4,500 to 5,600 kg/ha of cereals. The simplest way to represent the results is in terms of potential technical population-supporting capacity (at 2,325 kcal dietary energy per person per day - rather more than at present - and an appropriate intake of protein). At the three levels of inputs, the potential populations (in millions) that could be supported in the region are: low 1,010; intermediate 4,240; high 12,670. If we deduct from these figures the expected population in 2025 (1,325 million), we reach the following values of surplus or deficit (-) of population supporting capacity compared with expected population: low -315; intermediate 2,915; high 11,345. Data also show that each of the sub-regions of West East/Central and Southern Africa taken as a whole, seems potentially and technically able to support its expected population, provided it advances, on average, to the intermediate level of technique on part at least of its rainfed agricultural area. However, when we consider the potential of individual nations, a much less satisfactory picture emerges. In 1982, 19 nations were already too densely populated in relation to their environmental resources to attain selfsufficiency using customary methods alone. Seven could not expect to do it at the intermediate level of technique and one could not do it even at the high level. By 2025, four nations in East/Central Africa and three in Southern Africa appear unlikely to be able to attain self-sufficiency even if they apply the highest level of inputs on all their rainfed land; and in addition, four nations in West Africa, two in East/ Central Africa and two more in Southern Africa, will have to adopt the high level of inputs on part of their area if they wish to be self-sufficient. For these 15 nations, the intermediate level of inputs alone will not be enough 37 years from now. Three lines of thought flow from these considerations. The first is that most African nations will need new agricultural methods to use their environmental and other resources more productively. The new methods will usually have to include fertiliser, good seed and other purchased inputs, and in many places they will include mechanisation of parts at least of both the production and post-harvest phases. A flow of money, usually derived from sales off the farm will be needed to purchase the necessary inputs and this in turn implies substantial adjustment and change, not only in rural space (which will have to be equipped physically for its new tasks), but in the national economy as a whole. These changes are not likely to succeed if they are no more than a rural production campaign. To be effective, they have to form parts of a general development advance which enlarges and diversifies the economy and significantly lessens poverty. The second thought is that where a nation's environmental resources are limited, it may often be sensible to use them to produce commodities which are intrinsically more profitable than some staple foods. Many such commodities can also support post-harvest services and industries, both small and large which generate employment, income and added value in the national economy. Food legumes, cassava, maize, rubber and cocoa can all do this in different ways and cotton is probably the supreme example. The third thought arises from the fact that sub-Saharan Africa is fragmented into 45 sovereign nations, many of which are too small to include the geographical diversities and complementarities that help larger nations (like India) to weather difficulties and disasters. Though ultimate self-sufficiency in food will be difficult or impossible for many of the nations of sub-Saharan Africa, all of them have neighbours who are potential producers of surpluses. To realise these complementarities, governments will seek to develop appropriate political and economic arrangements amongst themselves as SADCC is already helping them to do. The nations will also require efficient trading organizations and physical infrastructure - particularly roads, railways, processing plants and storage. To some, all this will seem a far cry from what exists today. But all of the necessary elements can be seen already at work, in different nations of sub-Saharan Africa. Of course, it requires competence. And it requires peace. But beyond that dangerous word a simple academic, in our century of wars and revolutions, ought not to venture.