AFRICA – Olam Agri, a leading agribusiness in food, feed, and fibre, is at the forefront of advocating for enhanced crop yields across Africa in a bid to offset the continent’s food trade deficit.

Anil Nair, Country Head of Olam Agri’s Nigeria operations, highlighted this potential during the Market Access Africa Conference organized by the African Agri Council in Lagos.

Despite Africa’s substantial share of global arable land, Nair pointed out that the continent’s current crop yield falls below the global average noting the vast uncultivated lands that could be better utilised.

“Africa has 18% of the world’s arable land and 18% of the world’s population,” Nair explained. “With a total land mass of 3 billion hectares, 253 million hectares are arable, of which 203 million are used for crop production, leaving 50 million hectares available for cultivation as temporary fallow lands and temporary meadows and pastures.”

Detailing Africa’s agricultural output, Nair stated that on these 203 million hectares of cropped land, Africa produces approximately 250 million tons of cereals and coarse grains, including Maize (92 million tons), Sorghum (29 million tons), Millet (15 million tons), Rice (39 million tons), Wheat (27 million tons), Barley (6 million tons), and Teff (6 million tons).

In addition to cereals, Africa grows significant quantities of tubers such as Cassava (208 million tons), Yam (86 million tons), Potato (27 million tons), and Sweet Potato (29 million tons).”

Nair maintained that Africa should not be a net food importer, citing strong crop varieties but pointed out that low crop yields are among several factors hindering higher agricultural productivity on the continent.

 “Africa’s crop yields are significantly lower than the world averages,” Nair stated. “The average cereal yield in Africa is just 1.6 tons per hectare compared to the global average of 4 tons per hectare, which is 60% less.

Specifically, Africa’s rice yield is 2.35 tons per hectare, half of the world average. Africa consumes about 38 million tons of rice annually, with 15 million tons being imported. The continent cultivates approximately 16.5 million hectares for paddy, producing nearly 39 million tons of paddy or 22-23 million tons of finished rice, he explained.

Nair highlighted Olam Agri’s Rice Farm in Nigeria as an example of successful yield improvement, achieving 4.6 tons per hectare compared to the continent’s average of 2.35 tons per hectare.

He identified factors contributing to low crop yields in Africa, including low fertilizer use, limited adoption of mechanized farming, smallholder farmers’ lack of access to modern agronomic training, insufficient financing opportunities, and inadequate road infrastructure.

Additionally, post-harvest losses, which could be reduced by investing in storage facilities, also impact productivity.

Reiterating the need for innovative and sustainable solutions, Nair stated that achieving significant growth in Africa’s food production value chain requires investment in crop yield improvement.

He expressed Olam Agri’s belief in Africa’s potential and called for strong partnerships and focused policy regimes to enhance food production value chain productivity.

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