Agriculture In Africa, Crops, Livestock Farming

Introduction to Agriculture in Africa: The agriculture sector is the biggest industry in Africa, and it employs 60% of the workforce in Africa. Agriculture is defined as the cultivation of crops and rearing of animals, both for economic and domestic purposes. The agricultural sector is the most important in Africa as it handles the major aspect vital to human existence. Agriculture in Africa is the single most important economic activity for several people. Arable land under permanent crops occupies only about 6% of Africa’s total land area. In this article we also covered the below topics about agriculture in Africa;

  • Is Africa good for agriculture
  • How does climate change affect Africa
  • How many types of fish species are in Africa
  • How can we improve the agriculture sector in Africa
  • What kind of soil types does Africa have
  • What is agriculture like in Africa
  • Why is fishing important in Africa
  • Is agriculture profitable in Africa

A Step-by-Step Guide to Agriculture in Africa, Crops, Technology, and Livestock Farming

Cocoa Farming in Africa
Cocoa (Image source: pixabay)

Africa has an extremely wide variety of soils and climatic conditions. Many areas of Africa have inappropriate land use, poor management, soil erosion, salinization, and loss of vegetation. African soils are widely at risk since the traditional methods used by indigenous farmers like shifting cultivation with the increasing needs of the ever-expanding livestock and human populations.

Except for some countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya agriculture has been largely confined to subsistence farming and has been dependent on the inefficient system of shifting cultivation. In Africa, many countries have made efforts to raise productivity levels in the agriculture sector. Such measures have been relatively limited, and they have raised concerns about their part in accelerating soil erosion.

Agriculture in Africa brings in simple but effective technologies, such as:

  • Small-scale irrigation schemes
  • Seeds for drought-tolerant crops
  • Disease-resistant native crops.

Africa’s government helps farmers to improve agriculture production and the agriculture sector is Africa’s biggest employer. About 70% of the population makes a living from farming in eastern Africa. African farmers focus on unleashing the productive power of Africa’s smallholder farmers.

Africa helps farmers make the most of their land by working with farmers growing crops, keeping livestock, and managing fisheries. Farmers help to prevent pests to ensure farmers gain access to the high-quality seed and fertilizers they need, warehouses to store their crops, and vaccines that will protect their animals from problems. Agriculture in Africa has undergone fundamental change because of these below factors;

  1. The threats it faces internationally and locally,
  2. Macroeconomic and sectoral policies,
  3. In particular, reactions from agricultural producers when adapting to such change.

The agriculture sector in Africa is among the highest in the world, but a large portion of its crops are bound for exports to developed countries in the West like Japan, the European Union, and the United States. Then, this drew much criticism and blame on the developed countries for causing famine in the African countries.

In recent years, Brazil agreed to share with Africa the technological advancements that multiply its agriculture farming. This aims to help Africa to increase its agricultural production and decrease the poverty rate. The agriculture industry in Africa contributes the least to the total GDP of Africa. Africa’s industry is underdeveloped and only a few African countries have significant industries like South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. According to the African Development Bank Group, the industry employs only 15% of Africa’s total workforce. This identifies key areas of an investment plan for revitalizing the rural economy, including;

  • Improving land management, improve soil quality, apply farming methods to preserve, and expanding the acreage of irrigated African farmland
  • Investing in rural infrastructures like roads and railways, storage and processing facilities, markets, communications systems, and reliable supply networks for farmers
  • Making food production a high priority to combat hunger and for export, and improving emergency responses to natural disasters
  • Strengthening African agricultural development that includes advanced technologies, and efficiency to farmers, suppliers, and buyers.

Increased productivity and food security can be achieved in Africa if the appropriate investments are made in key interventions like soil fertility improvement, improved seeds, water management, market access, extension services, and access to credit, and improvements in weather forecasting. Where these have happened, the outcome has been remarkable.

Major Soils for Agriculture in Africa

The main soils are similar to those of the sub-humid wooded savannah, the semi-arid savannah, and the arid savannah zones. Then, these zones are Rendzinas, Kastanozems, Phaeozems, Cambisols, Arenosols and Solonchaks. In these, Rendzinas are limited in Africa, occurring mainly within the semi-arid zones. Lithosols, Xerosols, Yermosols, Regosols, Solonetz, and Solonchaks are the major soils of the zone. Though, such soils are mainly sandy, rocky, and calcareous or siliceous, with salt and gypsum deposits occurring extensively. Based on varying moisture conditions in Africa five agro-ecological zones are mainly identified. These five zones can be identified basis on the length of the growing period when moisture conditions and temperature permit rain-fed crop production. The zones identified are;

  • Very humid to the humid forest zone
  • Humid to sub-humid wooded savannah zone
  • Semi-humid wooded to semi-arid savannah zone
  • Semi-arid to arid savannah zone
  • Mediterranean zone.

The low-quality soils are those which have serious limitations. Some of the limitations are high soil acidity, impermeable layers in the soil, frequent water-logging, or some attribute which requires major investments to correct and manage. Such type of soil occupies about 16 % or 4.7 million km2 of land. Moisture stress ranges are minimal and confined to the dry season. The zones with adequate rain during the year and with a dry season of less than 1 or 2 months have some form of plantation agriculture or are under forests. About 16 % of the land has high-quality soils and about 13 % is of medium quality soils. About 9 million km2 of land with all these qualities support about 400 million people.

Climate Change Effect on Agriculture in Africa

Climate change is an additional challenge to the effective farming sector in Africa. Temperature increases and changes in rainfall patterns also significantly affect population health across Africa.

In Africa, climate change mainly affects irrigation demand and crop yields. The climate of the African rainforest is drier and very suitable for the successful agriculture sector. Tropical rainforests build ecological systems adapted to warm and humid climate conditions.

Climate change has a significant impact on agricultural systems as it affects plant and animal health. Increased temperature levels especially in the number of extremely hot days, as well as changes in precipitation, are the main climatic variables affecting agriculture on the African continent.

Climate change is expected to make agricultural growth in Africa more challenging. The frequency and severity of extreme events are increasing as temperature levels are projected to continue rising, and rainfall patterns are expected to shift more than they have already.

Factors Affecting Agriculture in Africa

The developing countries are engaged in agriculture but are unable to produce on a large scale due to some essential factors. These factors can include;

Economic factors – In Africa, various distinct economic factors affect the agriculture sector. One of the factors includes the weather. Other major factors include subsidies, prices of commodities, and laws on immigration, available transport facilities, and cost of land, capital market, and the labor force.

Climatic factors – Temperature, water, light, rainfall, air, relative humidity, wind are the main climatic factors that affect agriculture. Then, they influence the growth and development of the crops, which in turn, influence the outcome of the harvest. For example, air promotes pollination, determines the temperature level of the ground, and so on.

Physical or environmental factors – Some environmental factors like topography, soil, and climate affect agriculture. Crops thrive in rich soil with good drainage than any kind of soil. Soil with harsh chemicals will affect the plant’s growth unless improved.

Other major factors include education or knowledge of farming, technological advancements, political factors like government policies, land ownership and inheritance (social factors), and so on. If farmers can understand the factors to produce on large scales, they would be able to make better decisions concerning agriculture.

Fruits and Vegetable Production in Africa

The important fruits cultivated in Africa are Bananas, Apple, Orange, Peach, Olives, Pineapples, Dates, Figs, and Citrus. The important vegetables cultivated in Africa include tomatoes and onions. In Africa, Banana is well distributed, but it is cultivated as an irrigated enterprise in some countries like Somalia, Angola, Uganda, and Madagascar.

Tomatoes and Onions are widely grown in Africa, but the largest-producing regions border the Mediterranean. Important vegetables of tropical Africa are Peppers, Okra, Eggplants, Cucumbers, etc. There is a great deal of diversity in vegetable plants on the African continent.

Green leafy vegetables like Spinach and jute mallow flourish and are prevalent in the northern part of Africa. Also, some common root vegetables in Africa include Potatoes, Onions, and Garlic. Other root vegetables that are used in North African include Carrots, Turnips, and Beets. Also, Cucumbers, Squash, Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Eggplant are commonly used in Africa.

Some common vegetables grown across the eastern part of Africa are African black nightshade, stinging nettle, Amaranth, Spider plant, Pumpkin, black-eyed Peas commonly known as cowpeas, African eggplant, Ethiopian Kale, and Okra. Other important vegetables are common kale (brassica oleracea), Tomatoes, French Beans, Carrots, Spinach, and Cabbage. These vegetables are mostly adapted in the East African topography and have been acclimatized to the region.

A greater variety of fruits and vegetable plants abound in southern Africa. Some important fruits and vegetables that are cultivated in southern Africa are Bananas, Pineapples, Peach, Papaya, Mangoes, Avocados, Tomatoes, Carrots, Onions, Potatoes, and Cabbage.

Beverage Crops and Principal Crops Production in Africa

Tea, Coffee, Cocoa, and Grapes are all beverage crops cultivated in Africa. The largest producers of tea are Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and Mozambique. While the main producers of coffee are Ethiopia, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Madagascar. Cocoa is a tropical forest crop in Africa and its cultivation is mainly concentrated in western Africa. Some price fluctuations caused to form international cartels with other producing countries to regulate the market and negotiate better prices. In northern Africa and South Africa, Grapes are produced basically for the making of wine for European markets.

Cereals and grains – Africa mostly produces all the principal grains such as corn, wheat, and rice. Corn has the widest distribution in Africa and is being grown in virtually all ecological zones.

Sorghum and Millet are also produced in Africa. Egypt, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Madagascar are the important rice-producing countries in Africa.

Fodder Crops and Cash Crops in Africa

Legumes and fodder – Fodder crops are not widely cultivated except in the highland zones of East and Southern Africa and subtropical regions of North Africa, where pure stands of alfalfa (Lucerne) are raised. Some protein-rich legumes are produced widely sown together with other crops. Broad beans and vetches are also cultivated in North Africa. Peanuts are grown widely in western Africa for domestic consumption and export.

Cash Crops in Africa

Common cash crops in southern Africa are Tobacco, Cocoa, and Cotton. Africa has rich in natural resources and providing other nations with opportunities to obtain its plentiful supply of cotton and cocoa, though two of the world’s most important cash crops. In Africa, the Cotton industry has the opportunity for major expansion but has overcome obstacles and become a leading sector.

As for cocoa, the African countries of Côte d’Ivoire and the world’s single largest producer in Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon account for more than 70% of the world’s cocoa production at 2,926,458 tons.

The oil palm is producing palm oil and palm kernels, grows widely in the secondary bush in the tropical forest zones. Then, there are large plantations in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Coconuts are mostly cultivated in Comoros, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Kola nuts are cultivated in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and the forested regions of Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and Liberia. The cashew tree is cultivated to a limited extent in East Africa. Rubber is produced mainly in some countries like Nigeria and Liberia. The Major sugarcane producers in Africa are South Africa, Egypt, Mauritius, and Sudan.

Food Supply Systems in Africa

The agricultural production and food supply systems of a country mainly depend on many factors including the government policy, ecological potential, and the level of technology, inputs, and skills of the agricultural producers. Food self-sufficiency has been a food policy’s main objective of many African governments. While this objective has been politically desirable, it has not always been economically feasible. In some countries, food self-sufficiency has been taken to mean the adequacy of food supplies of locally produced staple cereals to meet the population per capita energy requirements. While a certain degree of food security can be obtained with such an approach, particularly in remote areas or in those lacking markets, a strict policy of food self-sufficiency is generally not desirable. It implies the maintenance of a level of domestic production plus a capacity to import to meet the food needs of the population by exporting other products.

Animal Production in Africa

In Africa, animal production mainly contributes to agriculture-related total national outputs. In sub-Saharan Africa, Livestock and their products contribute about 19% to the total value of the production of agriculture and fisheries. This underestimates the substantial contribution that livestock frequently makes to crop production through draught power and manure. The main countries for animal production are Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania.

Animal products are highly income-elastic products, i.e. their consumption increases with incomes and urbanization. In sub-Saharan Africa, on average meat and meat products make up only 3.2% of the dietary energy supply (DES). In some countries, the meat and meat products contribution to DES is much higher.

Dairy Farming in Africa

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Dairy Farming In Africa
Dairy Cows (pic credit: pixabay)

In Africa, the dairy farming business plays a central role in the region’s economic and sustainable development. Nearly 80% of the African population has created rural employment for Dairy production in Africa. Experts even expect strong product development in the region due to an abundance of breeds like cows, goats, and sheep.

At least 6 breeds of cattle are recognized in South Africa, as being “dairy breeds”. These breeds are Holstein-Friesland, Jersey, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Swiss (Brown and Dairy), and Dairy Shorthorn.

Dairy farming is defined as the main class of the agriculture sector for long-term milk production. On a comparative basis, traits like age at first calving, calving interval, milk yield per lactation, lactation length, and fat percentage have been used to evaluate dairy cow production.

The total number of dairy cows in Africa is 5 times that of the United States (49 vs. 9 million). Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Sudan are the highest milk-producing countries in Africa. In these, the most cow breeds available in Ethiopia whereas the greatest milk production per cow has South Africa. Some indigenous groups have a strong historic dairy tradition like the Maasai, Borani, Fulani, and Tuareg.

Marketing is a very important aspect of Africa’s agriculture. Though, the presence of close-by markets for milk and dairy products is a key motivating factor for milk producers. The promotion of marketing will need a gathering of milk from several producers, transforming it into an acceptable marketable product, and then delivering it to consumers at the desirable time and at an affordable price.

The major African milk-producing countries are Sudan, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and Algeria in terms of milk volume. Milk and milk products consumption in Africa is influenced by traditions and cultures. Though, the countries with the highest per-capita consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa are Sudan, Mauritania, Botswana, and Kenya.

Livestock and Fisheries Sector in Africa

In the livestock sector, cattle, sheep, and goats form the bulk of livestock animals in Africa. Most of these livestock animals are raised essentially for meat production except in South Africa. Sheep in the north and south are raised for their wool. In the tropical areas, other livestock products are hides and skins. It is estimated that the annual output of hides is in the range of 10% of the total population of cattle, while that of sheepskins and goatskins is approximately 25%. Milk production and milk products are grossly insufficient to meet domestic needs, except in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Poultry production has increased in Africa. The countries with the largest poultry stocks in Africa are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa, and Sudan.

Fishing is important in all countries in Africa. Commercial ocean fishing is widely practiced by countries are South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and Morocco which are near the rich fishing grounds of the west coast countries. Some fish species anchovies, herring, and sardines contribute most to the ocean catch, and in northern and southern waters the species are cod, hake, haddock, and tuna. Malawi, Uganda, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali are the Inland countries with well-developed fisheries; tilapia constitutes the largest catch in inland waters. In Africa, some countries have developed both marine and freshwater fishing industries.

Fisheries play the main social and nutritional roles in Africa. The sector contributes to food and nutrition security and provides jobs for coastal populations, which are often among the poorest and most vulnerable. On average globally, fish and fish products account for about 18% of animal protein intake.

The land area of Africa is the main food supply source for crop and livestock products. Fish and fishery products provide on average 3.8% of the total dietary protein supply in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is having more than 3000 species of fish, and some of them are wickedly cool species.

Freshwater fish species can be found in many of the great locations inland. Some fish species such as catfish, bass, barbell, brown trout, yellowfish, carp, and grass carp can be found in Africa. In Africa, fishing industries have long played a main role in commerce and daily life.

Cattle Farming in Africa

Indigenous African cattle can be mainly classified into four main categories. The four cattle categories in Africa are humped Bos indicus, humpless Bos taurus, Sanga, and Zenga.

Africa has about 14% of the world’s bovine population but produces about 16% of world beef and 3% of milk output. Developed countries have about 30% of the world’s bovine population but produce about 71% and 77% of the world’s beef and milk output.

Sheep Farming in Africa

Sheep are known as the domesticated ruminant (cud-chewing) mammal produced for their milk, meat, and wool. Sheep keeps important numbers of commercial sheep in South Africa.

The sheep reared are exclusively merino breeds kept for wool. Though, most of South Africa’s output of mutton or lamb is consumed locally.

Goat Farming in Africa

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Goat Farming in Africa
Goat Farming ( pic source: pixabay)

West African Dwarf is the domestic goat from coastal West and Central Africa is the. Normally, Goat is a multi-use animal that is reared for meat, milk, and wool. The Southern African goat population currently consists of about 38 million goats. Though, in the African continent, the largest goat population exists in Nigeria, Sudan, and Kenya.  Eastern Africa reported the highest increase in the goat population used for milk production.

Purpose of Irrigation Systems in Africa

Irrigation is necessary to improve harvest security and to realize any production at all in arid areas. African agricultural production types and food supply systems have traditionally inclined largely towards rain-fed cultivation. Additional required food has come from increasing the cultivated area. A good area is becoming scarce, and farmers have little choice but to intensify production systems to increase yields per unit of land and hour of labor input. If food production is to keep up with population growth and also dependency on commercial imports is to be avoided, production increases of up to 4% per year are needed. In agriculture, irrigation is appropriate for the production of high-value horticultural crops in peri-urban areas, and it can extend the production of other crops like Wheat, Rice, and Barley, which are not easily grown in most areas of Africa.

In Africa, the physical potential for irrigated crop production is large. Areas of irrigable land are considerable, and there are large amounts of surplus water that can be used for irrigation. About 27% of the potential has been realized in continental Africa. North Africa has already realized about 79% of its potential where water resources are relatively abundant, but a large amount of potential remains untapped in central African countries. Sub-Saharan Africa, where only 4% of arable land is under irrigation, is far from reaching the world average of about 18.5%.

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Sprinkler Irrigation in Africa
Sprinkler Irrigation (Image from pixabay)

The irrigation system has the potential to boost agricultural productivities. Currently, more than 13 million hectares of land are equipped for irrigation, and then make up just 6% of the total cultivated region. Because irrigated crop yields are double or more than comparable rain-fed yields, tapping into this irrigation potential is necessary for boosting the continent’s agricultural productivity to the lowest in the world.

Some Major Ways to Improve Agriculture in Africa are;

  • Precision Farming
  • More Affordable and Effective Irrigation Methods
  • Improved Soil Management
  • Financial Solutions
  • Better Crop Storage Techniques.

Problems Facing Agriculture in Africa

They mainly include technological innovation, land reforms, irrigation, climate change, trade, value chains in resources access. These are key issues as they shape agricultural productivity and sustainability of Africa’s agricultural transformation. African farmers and the leaders of their organizations are key players in terms of meeting these three challenges and bringing about these important changes on farms, in regions, and in the way agricultural industries are managed. They carry a vision of agriculture and the rural world which is necessary for orienting the transitions in rural economies in Africa.

Economic conditions improvement is magnified when you consider the continent’s agricultural sector. Because this is the overwhelming majority of the workforce is in the agriculture sector. Therefore, these financial returns range from capital preservation to market returns on loans.

Lack Of Information – It is the number one problem facing most small-scale farmers in agriculture. Most miss out on proper information regarding cheap but effective agriculture practices such as crop rotation, and the use of green manure, etc., to fertilize the land. The main problem here is illiteracy. Most poor farmers are unable to discern due to illiteracy and some programs like adult education can go a long way in helping the poor farmers in rural Africa.

Poor Financial Support – Poor Financial Support means a lack of financial systems to enable farmers to grow, expand, and maintain their yields. Several Microfinance groups are operating in Africa, not so many farmers have access to these groups that can help them in the long run. Most farmers in Africa are poor financially making it impossible for them to adopt new farming practices. For example, some seeds yield better and are disease-resistant than others. Such seeds are sold at higher prices on the market compared to regular seeds and not so many farmers can afford them.

Lack of Access to Fertilizers – This falls under the poor financial system and agricultural lands have become so expensive in Africa, most poor farmers have no choice but to farm on the same pieces of land. Farming on the same land pieces for years leads to land degradation whereby fertile lands lose most of their nutrients. Farmers depend on artificial fertilizers to enable them to grow crops and improve their crop yields. Artificial fertilizers are quite expensive in Africa and most rural regions, they are unavailable at all. Some government assistance such as giving farming subsidies to small and large scale farmers, and giving some tax breaks, etc., can go a long way here.

Poor transportation – This is the main issue facing not just the agriculture sector but the economy in general throughout Africa. Most of the farm produce in Africa and it is mostly because farmers find it difficult to transport their farm produce to the market to sell.

Commonly Asked Questions about Agriculture in Africa

What are cash crops in Africa?

Cotton and Cocoa are two of the world’s most important cash crops.

What is a freshwater fish native to Africa?

Cichlids are freshwater fish found in Africa.

What types of fish are in Africa?

Some major fish species in Africa are Bass, Yellow Fish, Brown Trout, Carp, and Grass Carp.

How many types of fish are in Africa?

Africa has more than 3000 species of fish.

Which vegetables are native to Africa?

Some common vegetables in Africa are African black nightshade, stinging nettle, amaranth, spider plant, Pumpkin, African eggplant, Ethiopian kale, and okra.

What grows well in Africa?

Several vegetables grow well in Africa for example Tomatoes, Onions, Cabbages, Peppers, Okra, Eggplants, and Cucumbers are mostly raised in Africa. On the coast of North Africa, Tomatoes and Onions are the most common vegetables that grow in large quantities. The principal beverage crops are Tea, Coffee, Cocoa, and Grapes in Africa.

What is the most important farming in Africa?

This farming method is the most common food production system in East and Southern Africa. Then, this is from Kenya and Tanzania to Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa.

Which is the most leading fish-producing country in Africa?

The leading fishing countries in the African Great Lakes region are Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania are, while Nigeria and Egypt, with their river fisheries, remain the main producers in Africa. The global fish trade has been increasing rapidly in recent decades.

Where is the most fertile land in Africa?

The most fertile land in Africa is Zimbabwe.

What country has the most cattle in Africa?

According to the latest livestock census statistics conducted on the African continent, Ethiopia has the largest number of livestock animals in Africa.


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