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close this bookSustaining the Future. Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 p.)
close this folderPart 3: Environment and resource management
close this folderAgricultural development in the age of sustainability: Crop production
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe ecological zones of Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentGeneral crop production constraints and potentials for overcoming them
View the documentTechnologies with potential for sustainable resource management
View the documentWomen's underexploited potential
View the documentSuggested approaches to sustainable production
View the documentSummary
View the documentConclusions
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentReferences


It is estimated that by the year 2025 the population of Sub-Saharan Africa will double. A major concern is how to feed the population of over 480 million (without South Africa) whose 3 per cent rate of annual population increase is about the highest in the world. Climatic, ecological, and socio-economic problems plague Africa. Poor infrastructure for crop production, handling, and marketing, compounded by climatic extremes, causes fluctuations in food availability and subsequently hunger. About 100 million inhabitants of SubSaharan Africa (or 25 per cent) consume less than 80 per cent of the requirements recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), including the proportion filled by food imports (World Bank 1989). Because the food security of the majority of the Sub-Saharan African population that is dependent upon farming is directly influenced by agriculture, emphasis on agricultural productivity and related activities will most likely alleviate the food deficits of the most vulnerable sector. Production not only must increase but should be sustained in the long term.

The concern for sustainable development is reflected in the growing literature and policy initiatives on the issue. Definitions range from those that base sustainability on ecological balance to those that combine ecological with socio-economic concepts. Dover and Talbot (1987) view a sustainable production system as one whose productivity continues indefinitely with no noticeable degradation of the ecosystem. Earlier, Conway (1985) emphasized sustainability as the ability of a system to maintain its level of productivity in spite of a major disturbance such as is caused by an "intense or large perturbation." These definitions do not give the degree or level of production to be maintained and at what pressure on the environment. Thus the boundaries have not, according to Lynam and Herdt (1988), been ascertained in these definitions. In this paper, the explanation of sustainability that incorporates biophysical, socio-economic, and cultural concepts given by Okigbo (1989) is preferred. He defines a sustainable agricultural production system as "one which maintains an acceptable and increasing level of productivity that satisfies prevailing needs and is continuously adapted to meet the future needs for increasing the carrying capacity of the resource base and other worthwhile human needs" (1989: 3). Thus a production system leads to the development of people if it results in advancement from the current position. Development attains a sustainable level when its processes are controlled and perpetuated by resources within the reach of, and/or controlled by, the system such that any external influences do not upset the equilibrium attained. Highly developed people (or societies) attain a high quality of life using resources that they control or that are accessible to them to "own, maintain or hire" (Okigbo 1989).

The objective of this paper is to examine how agricultural development can be oriented to be highly productive and sustainable. Therefore the main discussion areas in this paper are:

The ecological zones of Sub-Saharan Africa: their major crops and production constraints.
General crop production constraints and the potential for over coming them.
Technologies with potential for sustained resource management.
Women's underexploited potential.
Approaches to sustainable crop production in Sub-Saharan Africa.