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close this bookReversing the Spiral - The Population, Agriculture, and Environment Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa (WB, 1994, 320 p.)
close this folder2. Agricultural stagnation and environmental
View the documentAgricultural stagnation, population growth, and food security
View the documentThe deteriorating natural resource base and ecological environment
View the documentNotes

Agricultural stagnation, population growth, and food security

Over the past twenty-five years, agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa rose by only about 2.0 percent a year, while aggregate population growth averaged about 2.8 percent per year (Tables A-2 and A-9).¹ Per capita food production has declined in most countries of the continent (Table A-10). Cereal imports increased by 3 9 percept per year between 1974 and 1990, food aid by 7.0 percent per year. But the food gap (requirements minus production)—filled by imports, or by many people going with less than what they need—is widening. In the early 1980s, about 100 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa were unable to secure sufficient food to ensure an adequate level of nutrition for them-selves, and average food consumption per capita declined during the 1970s and 1980s in seventeen of the thirty-six SSA countries for which data are available (Table A-10).² In years of poor harvests the numbers affected have been much larger Severe food shortages were exceptional in the 1960s, but are no longer so. Famines in several countries in the 1980s were graphic indications of natural calamity, as well as of civil disruption, in the region. On average, officially estimated per capita food intake in Sub-Saharan Africa in the late 1980s, at 2,027 calories per day, was below the 1965 level and significantly lower than in other parts of the developing world. The average in India, for example, is 2,235 calories daily per person. The average African consumes only about ST percent of the calories needed for a healthy and productive life.

The available data show no acceleration of aggregate agricultural growth in the 1980s. It has, in fact, been slightly below the longer-term average of 2.0 percent a year recorded for the past three decades (Table A-9) (It was higher than 2.0 percent in the 1960s and much lower in the 1970s.) This poor performance is also evident in the decline of agricultural export earnings. Export volumes and values have declined for almost all SSA countries from 1980 to 1990 (Table A-13), with volume declining at 2.7 percent per year on average. There are notable exceptions. Exports of tea and horticultural products from Kenya' cocoa from Cd'Ivoire, and cotton from several West African countries have grown substantially in volume. But the success stories are few.

Projections, based on present trends, are disturbing. Aggregate population growth has accelerated to over 3.1 percent a year (Table A-2). Projections based on current trends in fertility and mortality rates (including the impact of AIDS) indicate only a slight deceleration in aggregate population growth through the year 2000. The total fertility rate (TFR) for Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has declined only marginally from 6.6 from in 1965 to 6.4 at present (Table A-2). By contrast, the average TFR for all the world's low-income countries declined from 6.3 in 1965 to 4.0 in 1987. During the same period, the crude death rate in SubSaharan Africa. [elf from 23 to 16 (Table A-3). In countries with a nigh incidence of AIDS, death rates will rise, but nowhere is population growth expected to fall below 2 percent per annum by the year 2000, even under worst case AIDS scenarios currently considered plausible.³ Unless efforts to reduce TFRs succeed (or mortality rates rise dramatically due to currently unanticipated AIDS developments), population growth rates will decline very little.

Table 6.1 shows the implications of these trends for SubSaharan Africa's future food gap In 1990, Sub-Saharan Africa's 474 million people produced about 90 million metric tons of maize equivalent of food. With 100 million tons of aggregate consumption, there was a gap of 10 million tons met by imports. At currently projected growth rates, Sub-Saharan Africa's population will total about 1,184 million and its food production will reach about 163 million tons of maize equivalent in 2020. Even with no change in average per capita consumption, aggregate requirements will be about 250 million tons. The 87 million ton food gap would be almost nine times today's gap and equivalent to about onefourth of the present annual production of cereals in the United States. Food aid varied between 4 million and 7 million tons of cereals per year in the 1980s and could not conceivably increase sufficiently to fill this gap. Without significant per capita growth in agricultural production it is difficult to imagine sufficient overall economic growth that would generate the resources needed to finance food imports of this magnitude—or, for that matter, to maintain educational and health services and infrastructure facilities.

These disturbing trends will not continue indefinitely. What is at issue is how they will eventually be overcome. Will the strong synergies and the dynamics of these trends lead to human and environmental degradation and ultimately to widespread starvation? Or will these trends be overcome through voluntary, but determined, action to reduce population growth and promote sustainable agricultural development and growth?