High population growth rate – A threat to food security initiatives in Africa

High population growth rate - A threat to food security initiatives in Africa
Redeemed Christian Church of God, Annual Convention, Camp Ground, Mowe, outskirts of Lagos. Hundred’s of thousands of people attend the mass. With an estimated 21 million inhabitants, Lagos is Africa’s biggest city in the continents most populous nation. And its population is increasing faster than almost any other in the world. Lagos is home to the richest people in the richest country in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding of South Africa), but the riches have hardly trickled down, it is also one of the most unequal cities in the world (ranked in the top three most unequal for income earned). The huge numbers of poor eking out a living here make this the 4th worst place to live in the world. But not for everyone - Lagos has seen a rapidly rising middle class and this city of enormous contrasts is fast becoming internationally known as Africa’s hub of creativity, fashion and business. Lagos. August 2013. Photo Robin Hammond/Panos

“My son, had I known before, the negative effects of having many children, I would have stopped on two children. I am finding it extremely difficult to ably feed my large family comprising of two women and 16 children, using my four acres of land, which I and my family entirely depend on for survival.

To make matters worse, yields from my farm, have over the years been reducing, due to declining soil fertility and as thus, we occasionally eat once in a day,” Those were the words of Nabudere Patrick, a resident of Namanyonyi Sub County, Mbale district, located in eastern Uganda. Millions of other African small-scale farmers are facing the same scenario.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the global population could increase by as much as two billion in the next 25 years. If this happened, world food production would have to double to provide food security for the projected population in 2025. How are African countries positioning themselves in this regard?

Across Africa, the rate at which population is increasing is so alarming. It is increasing at rate that is far higher than food production in the continent. In fact, African countries like Rwanda, Niger, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal are experiencing a population growth rate of between 2.8-3.4 percent per annum, which is unacceptably high and making it difficult for these countries to feed their people.

Uganda, which is currently experiencing a high population growth rate of 3.4 per cent per annum – third highest in the world after that of Niger and Mayotte – is already feeling the negative consequences of a skyrocketing population growth. According to the country’s ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries report of 2009, 17.7 million people out of a total population of 33 million people are food insecure.

Though African countries have made and are making agricultural stimulation policies and programs aimed at increasing food production, the efforts are being undermined by a high population growth rate.

This is made worse by traditional inheritance systems, which are highly practiced and respected across African societies. For instance, if a father of 10 children has 5 acres of land and he dies, each of his children will inherit half an acre on which to put a homestead and practice farming. Their children will also be given share of this half an acre.

What this will lead to is some lineage family members will find themselves with nowhere to put a home and practice farming. Therefore they will be forced to move to towns and cities to make ends meet. Can a family of say five people, which in African setting is too small, really be food secure through utilizing half or a quarter of an acre of land?

Skyrocketing population is also responsible for land fragmentation in Africa, whereby family members who find themselves not inheriting enough land to accommodate their homestead and farming aspirations keep on buying small pieces of land in different areas to utilize for food production purposes. This is proving difficult for farmers to effectively utilize due to geographical distance between these small farms.

Due to this scenario, many small scale farmers in Africa have found themselves unable to effectively curb disease and pests outbreaks as they find themselves applying different methods.

We need to stay aware that the agricultural sector in Africa is dominated by small-scale farmers.They constitute 70 percent of people engaged in the sector.

As farm sizes keep on decreasing, due high population growth rate, so is food production from these small farms. In the end this is also making small scale farmers earn smaller incomes.

This partly explains why 65 percent of small-scale farmers’ households are still trapped in poverty cycle, surviving on less than $2 a day.

It is important for us to note that the negative implications of population growth on food production and food security pose major threats to human health, the economy, the environment and wildlife, as more and more forests, national parks, wetlands and other ecological lands, are increasingly being cleared by the increasing population in search of more land for cultivation for food production purposes.

In my extensive travels and work engagements with grassroots farmers in rural Africa, I have observed that women are the dominant workers in the agricultural sector.

They also produce on average seven children. In addition to feeding the babies, they are also burdened with domestic chores like looking for firewood, cooking, and fetching water, which all drastically reduce on their time in agricultural sector. Consequently it contributes to food insecurity in their homes.

In sum, African countries should do whatever is possible, like designing and implementing population control programs, complemented by small-scale farming agricultural stimulating strategies, geared towards make small-scale farming productive and profitable.

It is the only way if we are to attain food security and sustainable economic transformation powered by agricultural sector.

by Moses Hategeka