In DepthThe QuestionShould Africa dream of feeding Asia?


Posted on Tuesday, 04 December 2012 13:03

Should Africa dream of feeding Asia?

As demand for arable land in China goes up, Asian investors are buying up land in Africa on the cheap. We ask two experts whether African governments should focus on food for export. Join in the debate.


Mahesh Patel, Chairman, Export Trading Group, Tanzania

Yes Asia is one of the key drivers of our business. India and China are now both becoming net importers of food. They have growing middle classes, and their food habits are changing. But that doesn’t mean we should not export to them. To be honest, Africa is now starting to feed itself. After many decades of war, stability is starting to return to the continent, and I think that you will stop seeing food insecurity problems after about a year or so.

Instead, we should focus on helping the smallholder farmer. Everybody talks about them, but no one does anything for them. Connecting these smallholders to Asian markets will create jobs and will help lift them into the middle class. By giving them the know-how, the improved seeds, the extra capital, fertiliser and a good price for their produce, we can get them to produce enough for the local market, regional markets and international markets. But we do it in that order. We have to make sure that each country is food secure first, before moving towards agriculture exports.


Moussa Seck, President Pan-African Agribusiness & Agro-Industry Consortium, Senegal

No The problem is that the world’s population will almost double in 50 years, and so we have to double global food production. A person needs around 1tn of food to survive each year. Today, Africa has a population of one billion, and yet we are only producing 500m tn of food. Africa will take the decision to export food, but it will put food security at stake in the future. Asian investors are already buying land in Africa, but the population of Africa will stand up and say: “No, no, no.” It has already started. There will be questions about the contracts because they are not fair.

It doesn’t mean that Africa can’t export, but we must concentrate today on the growth potential of the continent before we feed any other continent. Africa stretches for 8,000km from north to south and can grow all the crops in the world twice a year. The same crops grown in the north of the continent can be grown six months later in the south.

We are going to eat tomorrow what China is eating today. In order to develop, China made an effort to shift from cereal production to vegetable production.

Governments have to realise that agriculture is pivotal for development. Economies can’t afford to have 70% of their population living in the rural areas, producing only 20% of GDP. We have to invest all along the value chain, from inputs to production, transportation, processing, marketing and financing.


Add your comment to the debate below. The best responses will be published in the next edition of The Africa Report.

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