Economics of Cereal Production in Africa

If there was ever to be a face of staple crops on the African continent, it is of certainty that cereals would be a top contender; as cereal consumption cuts across a variety blend of cultures and nationalities and are grown in diverse agro-ecological zones and farming systems; they also provide more food energy than any other crop across the globe.

Historically, Africa is considered to be the continent of origin and a major producer of most cereals consumed in the continent, such as; Sorghum, Pearl Millet, Finger Millet, Teff and African rice. Perhaps more practically as a point of focus, Maize and Wheat are very important crops in Africa, with consumption cutting across African kitchens, regardless of origin, class or social strata.

Among the 22 countries in the world where Maize has the highest percentage of calorie intake, 16 are from Africa; and an estimated 208 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa depend on the crop as a source of food security and economic well being. Cereals yield in Africa is lower than the world average.

According to FAO stats, the average fertilizer consumption is 16.24 kg/ha which is 1/6th compared to the world consumption of 98.20 kg/ha. Data released in 2015 revealed Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia as the top three nations on the continent where maize is harvested, with a combined estimate of 13 million ha of arable land. It took at least a concerted effort of the remaining nations in the top 15 of the list to match that figure.

Wheat is grown on around 10 million ha in Africa. It is a major staple crop for several countries and an imported commodity in all of Africa. On the continent, wheat consumption has steadily increased during the past 20 years as a result of increasing population, changing food preferences and other factors. Africa imports the most wheat in the world. Wheat consumption is expected to grow 38% by 2023 with imports already at 23 million tons as at 2013 at a cost of $7.5 billion. Similar stats for other cereals such as millet, sorghum and barley reveal a pattern on the top 15 list which is dominated by 3-4 nations, while the rest are seemingly incomparable to the top harvesting nations.

On a global scale, the production of cereals for 2017/2018 is 2650.8 million tones with China, The United States of America and India among the top 3 producing nations of a variety of cereals. Also, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Australia and Russia are among the top list of exporters across the world.
It is both interesting and obvious to discover that no African country features on either list, as issues ranging from funding, the inadequate productivity of smallholder farmers, to the case for improved technologies such as stress-resistant and high yielding varieties of cereals.

Efforts are being made by the CGIAR (Consortium of International Agricultural Researchers) centres in collaboration with respective national institutions and other key stakeholders to address the challenges of cereal production in Africa and improve the productivity of Maize, Sorghum, Millets, Rice and Wheat to meet the increasing demands. The CGIAR Centers championing the development of these important cereals have facilitated strategies for re-invigorating the process of developing and disseminating the requisite technology that would boost the production and productivity of cereals to meet the increasing demand in Africa.

For example in Sorghum, Pearl Millet and Finger Millet; additional support is required to enable the strengthening of the Crop Development Process, strengthening of the seed production and delivery systems for improved varieties, empowering of farmers to enable them manage their practical capacity in a sustainable manner, using integrated soil fertility and crop-livestock systems management such as crop rotation (e.g. important cash crops like cotton in terms of residual P and N for the subsequent legume and cereal crops, respectively), minimum or conservation tillage systems, expediting the scaling out of new sorghum and millet technologies including product development, enabling Farmers’ access to production inputs and markets and sustaining the technology delivery system.

Nevertheless, despite these pragmatic steps, the future of cereal production remains opaque and uncertain, but there is a definite increase in the demand for cereals in Africa and meeting the needs would not just help to feed the growing population but also boost the potential of Agribusiness in the continent.