Breakthrough science and innovation

S. Kilungu (CCAFS)

Future food security in sub-Saharan Africa examined

East Africa
West Africa
Priorities and Policies for CSA

Given that the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by a factor 2.6 by 2050 (another 1.5 billion people), experts estimate that food production must triple by 2050 to maintain the present level of food self-sufficiency. Trends show that cereal yields are growing more slowly than population and demand in almost all countries.


A 2016 CCAFS study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) shows that future food security depends on a nearly complete closure of the yield gap between current farm yields and yield potential to achieve a large, abrupt acceleration in rate of yield increase. If this acceleration is not achieved, there will likely be a massive expansion of cropland into forests and other areas resulting in significant biodiversity loss, along with increased greenhouse gas emissions, and a vast dependency on food imports.

However, experts found that closing the yield gap is not enough. The paper, Can sub-Saharan Africa feed itself?, suggests that climate-smart agricultural practices such as sustainably intensifying the number of crops grown on existing croplands, nutrient management, and expanding use of irrigation in a responsible manner, are important, but insufficient. Future food security requires immediate and adequate research and development investments by the public and private sectors, accompanied by government policies that ensure intensification without negative environmental consequences, authors state.

“With improved cultivars, hybrid seeds, coupled with increased use of irrigation, fertilizers, modern pest management practices and good agronomy, it’s possible to achieve accelerated rates of yield gain,” study co-author Kindie Tesfaye, a scientist with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Addis Ababa, said. “It’s achievable, but we have to break the complacency that we can continue with business as usual … (and) still feed ourselves” Tesfaye, told CNBC Africa.

A second CCAFS study published in PNAS analyzed the key drivers of household food availability by examining land use and production data from more than 13,000 smallholder farm households in 93 sites in 17 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The analysis suggests that targeting poverty through improving market access and off-farm opportunities is a better strategy to increase food security than focusing only on agricultural production and closing yield gaps. The study calls for multi-sectoral policy harmonization and incentives, improved interconnectedness of people to urban centers, and diversification of employment sources, rather than a singular focus on agricultural development among smallholder farmers.

“We need to ensure that farmers have access to markets for their produce and opportunities to diversify their income by working outside the farm… to target poverty and improve food security’, co-author Ken Giller, of Wageningen University, said. Much of the focus of agricultural research in relation to rural development in Africa is currently focused on increasing crop yields. While important, it is simply not enough on its own.”

At the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh in November 2016, CCAFS joined experts in launching an action plan for the Adaptation of African Agriculture Initiative.


  • Africa Rice
  • International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
  • International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)
  • International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
  • International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
  • International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
  • Wageningen University & Research Centre (WUR)
  • AGRHYMET Regional Centre, Niger
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
  • Federal University of Technology Minna, Nigeria
  • French National Institute for Agricultural Research
  • Institut d'Economie Rurale, Mali
  • Institut de l'Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles, Burkina Faso
  • Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
  • Lund University
  • Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Tanzania
  • National Agricultural Research Laboratories,Uganda
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of Queensland
  • University of Zimbabwe
  • Adaptation of African Agriculture partners:
  • Government of Morocco
  • International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
  • Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE)
  • Groupe Crédit Agricole du Maroc
  • International Fertilizer Association (IFA)
  • Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA)
  • Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA)

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