The private sector: The future of the African food system

Fish trader in Lusaka, Zambia.

Fish trader in Lusaka, Zambia.

Africa is in a transition period. It is moving away from being a primarily rural continent and is instead becoming increasingly urban and modern. In fact, about five decades ago about 85% of the African population lived in rural areas. By 2030 the ratio of rural population to urban population in Africa will be equal, and afterwards the gap will split in favor of urban populations (Figure 1). These statistics mean a challenge for the near future of the private sector.

Projected urban and rural population growth rates in Africa, from 1950 to 2050.

Projected urban and rural population growth rates in Africa, from 1950 to 2050.

Indeed, in the past the African food system was based mainly on rural farming systems, and thus rural systems received the majority of  government technical support, extension services and agricultural funding. The food needs of the population were less demanding and essentially based on staple foods. The private sector was almost non-existent at this stage in the African food system.

Since then, Africa has experienced significant structural and economic changes, and these have trickled down to induce major changes in its food system as well. In a few decades Africa will have a mainly urban population for which just staple crops will not be enough.

Increasingly, Africa is going to need to transform staple crops to give them added value. Taste, shape, compsition, packaging–all will go into making marketable products that will require a significant investment in the agribusiness and food industries.

This is the private sector’s opportunity to present a dynamic, competitive and diversified front to support Africa in this transformation. In fact, if the changes in the African food system over the past 40 years have been driven by the public sector, the changes to come in the next 40 years will certainly be driven by the private sector (Minde et al. 2012) (See Figure 2).

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Evolution in the roles of African food system actors (Minde et al 2012).

But, are the policies makers and other stakeholders involved in African food systems aware of this evidence? If yes, will they make the required reforms and actions so the private sector can be more competive and lead the transformation of the future African food system?

If no, we can say that it is not too late to raise awareness about thes challenge. However, we must work quickly and urgently to make sure we are not caught by surprise and miss a great opportunity for economic change and growth on the African continent.

Blogpost by Rivaldo Kpadonou, social media reporter for AASW6.

Photo: S. Mann (Worldfish)

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