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Ten Facts about Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa

Source: World Development Report 2008: 56, Global Agrarecological Zones


In summer 2011, a severe hunger crisis struck East Africa. Several million Africans in Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya were dependent on foreign food aid. Persistent drought, sharply increasing prices for staple food and regional conflicts had caused a collapse of regional food supply.

What can be found here? Facts...

about agriculture: obvious and unpopular numbers about agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe*. For this purpose different databases and reports from the World Bank, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and other institutions were analysed and ten facts were summarised.


Fact 1: The majority of Sub-Saharan Africans live in rural areas, Europeans predominantly in cities.

Fact 2: A vast number of sub-Saharan Africans work in the agricultural sector.

Fact 3: Approximately half of Sub-Saharan African farmers are women. Over the last thirty years, female farmers became increasingly important for African food supply.

Fact 4: On average, a woman in Sub-Saharan Africa gives birth to five children, a European woman birthes less than two children over her lifetime.

Fact 5: Sub-Saharan African agricultural cropland (per capita) exceeds cropland in the EU, but arable land per family/farm is seven times smaller than in the EU.

Fact 6: Sub-Saharan African agricultural productivity (yield per hectare) is about 50 per cent of its European equivalent. The differences in productivity are even bigger among Sub-Saharan countries.

Fact 7: About three quarters of the African population live of less than US $2 per day. People in rural areas are more often struck by poverty.

Fact 8: Global food prices grew about 170 per cent between 2000 and 2010. In some African regions (e.g. Somalia, Uganda) staple food prices temporarily rose by 1,300 per cent.

Fact 9: Global Economic development – expressed by Gross Domestic Product per person – and global agricultural productivity seem to be connected to each other. This observation cannot be found for sub-Saharan Africa yet.

Fact 10: „Cross-country estimates show that GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture.“ (Source: Ligon and Sadoulet 2007, taken from World Development Report 2008: 6)

* Remark: Please keep in mind that statistical data is never free of errors. Statistical data is only as reliable as its methodology.



Data Sources for the Facts 

World Bank Database (online): http://data.worldbank.org/

FAOSTAT databases (online): http://faostat.fao.org/default.aspx

FAO GIEWS Food Price Data and Analysis Tool (online): http://www.fao.org/giews/pricetool2/

Gapminder, for a fact-based world view: http://www.gapminder.org/labs/gapminder-agriculture

Doss, Cheryl 2011: The Role of Women in Agriculture, ESA Working Paper No. 11-02. URL: http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/am307e/am307e00.pdf

Evenson, Robert E., and Douglas Gollin 2003: “Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000.” Science 300(5620):758–62.

FAO 2006: “FAOSTAT”. Rome, Food and Agricultural Organization.

World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, The World Bank, Washington, URL: http://go.worldbank.org/LBJZD6HWZ0