The National Academy of Sciences has just released a new report on "The Determinants of Recent Trends in Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Workshop Summary." This summarizes the work of a panel of demographers that met this past summer to assess where Africa is heading. The focus is on fertility, but that of course underlies everything else that is going on. Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region of the world with higher than average fertility and lower than average economic growth. This is not a good combination. There are a lot of important details in the report but the following comments from John Cleland of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine really struck me:
Sub-Saharan Africa is also already the region of the world with the largest prevalence of
undernourishment, Cleland explained, with 32.7 percent of the region’s population having had insufficient nutrition in the years 2011 to 2013. To meet the needs of a growing population, the region will need to double its food availability over the next 35 years, he said.
This will be difficult, Cleland explained. Agriculture accounts for 64 percent ofAnd if the graph below doesn't get your attention, nothing will:
employment in the region, but 80 percent of farms are less than 2 hectares in size and ownership rights are often insecure. Yields are not improving and 95 percent of crops are dependent on rain, as opposed to irrigation. Seventy percent of arable soil is degraded and the region currently imports 31 percent of its cereals, at a cost of $30 to 50 billion annually. He noted the possibility of ameliorating some of these problems, but added that many countries have reached the limits of their capacity. The ratio of the agricultural population to arable land will likely increase, he explained, which will in turn lead to overexploitation of fragile land and further soil degradation. As farms become smaller, the possibilities for innovation and the production of surplus will decline. The insecurity of many farmers’ tenure on their land is a further disincentive to invest in long-term improvements. The biggest threat, however, comes from the erratic rainfall patterns and increases in temperatures that have already begun as a result of global climate change.