Africa is home to 54 countries, with 36 percent of people living on less than one dollar a day. Farming is how a large majority of Africans feed their family and generate revenue. Although the sweeping plains of East and South Africa are abundant in natural resources, there are still high levels of poverty among farmers. These 10 facts about farming in Africa will explain why farmers in Africa fall below the international poverty level.
10 Facts About Farming in Africa
- The Sahara Desert is growing. A future threat to farmers is the Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert. While most deserts’ boundaries expand and contract seasonally, data collected over the past 100 years shows that the Sahara grew by at least 11 percent and now takes up 3.6 million square miles of Northern Africa. As the places where people farm grow drier, famine and drought become more of a risk.
- Sub-Saharan Africa contains 19 of the 25 poorest countries in the world. This includes the Central African Republic, which is nearly self-sufficient in crops but ranks as the poorest country in Africa (681 GDP) due to poor livestock quality. Overall, this “horn” of the African continent contains a population of 626 million people, and 384 million—or 61 percent—of them are farmers.
- Roughly 65 percent of Africa’s population relies on subsistence farming. Subsistence farming, or smallholder agriculture, is when one family grows only enough to feed themselves. Without much left for trade, the surplus is usually stored to last the family until the following harvest. While subsistence farming is appealing to rural farmers because it allows families to be self-sufficient, it is heavily susceptible to climate change and works best when there is no drought or flood, which usually isn’t the case.
- Farmers suffer from Africa’s loss of share in world trade. Unfortunately, there are higher trade taxes placed on the continent compared to other regions. This is due to roads that lead toward ports rather than other countries, as well as rigorous tariffs and inspection laws between borders. Working to boost intra-African trade, regional economic communities (RECs) face immense challenges and policymakers are focusing on RECs in order to increase regional integration.
- Africa’s common cash crops are cocoa, cotton and coffee. Initially, cocoa was as a smallholder crop but has grown in popularity due to global demand. Robusta is a typical coffee bean grown in Africa, commonly used for instant coffee. It faces competition with the higher quality Arabica beans exported from Asia and South America. Overall, the exposure of cash crops to the world market has expanded growth in Africa but also slowly eroded farmer incomes. Cash crop farmers receive very small proportions of the final traded price.
- Women make up the largest share of the agricultural labor force in Africa. Although they produce 80 percent of the continent’s food, they are excluded from determining agricultural policies and certain laws deprive them of their land and livelihood. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that if women were given the same access to productive resources as men, crop yield could be increased 20 to 30 percent—in turn, reducing the number of world hunger up to 17 percent. https://www.farmafrica.org/what-we-do-1/women-in-the-field
- Africa has the largest number of child labor, and the agriculture sector accounts for most of it. In sub-Saharan Africa, child labor increased over the 2012 to 2016 period, in contrast to continued progress in the rest of the world. Most child labor is unpaid, going on in family farms and not between employment with a third-party.
- Countries with high child labor rates, like Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, also report high school attendance rates at 90 percent. Families that do subsistence farming anecdotally report high career aspirations for their children. The high child labor rates are not necessarily an alternative to school, but an act performed for the necessary family income that leads to subsistence and high attendance rates. In a sense, child work often contributes to improving the family farm that they may eventually inherit.
- Focus on agribusiness can help improve the lives of farmers. The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) promotes a focus on the chain of process: land tenure, farming technology, markets and pricing. Agribusiness also involves technology, such as mobile apps used as a means to reach farmers and track data on land conditions. By turning farming into an entrepreneurial endeavor, agribusiness could create the mass number of jobs needed for Africa’s youth.
- By increasing local production of chemical fertilizers, the lives of African farmers could improve. Globally, Africa consumes only one percent of fertilizer and produces even less. With high costs and short supply, African farmers pay up to six times the average price for fertilizer. If a farmer is living on one dollar a day, imported fertilizer is unaffordable. Increasing local production of fertilizer would reduce costs and shorten the supply chain to farmers.
Improving the lives of African farmers is possible through education and outside funding. USAID can focus on improving transportation networks for rural areas, as well as expanding the infrastructure of suppliers and markets. Through gender-equalizing laws and lowering tariffs, African farmers can also increase their benefits from their work. These 10 facts about farming in Africa show that African farmers make up a large majority of the world’s poor, and there is much to be done when it comes to improving their future.
– Isadora Savage