Is the food crisis in the Sahel region of Africa a curse? ~ Chofor Che


World Vision and the World Food Programme have blown the alarm of a food crisis in the Sahel region in Africa. The World Bank also warned that a worrying broad-based increase in grain prices fuelled by a severe drought in the U.S. Midwest, would affect the world's poor, including those in the world's least developed continent, Africa. This position has been corroborated by leading economist and Vice President at the African Development Bank (AfDB), Mthuli Ncube.

According to Ncube, growing food prices could hit commodity producers in Africa and in the Sahel most especially, with a dangerous ‘double whammy’ when combined with the economic slowdown experienced in Europe and China, thereby reducing African exports of oil and raw materials.

This food price spike is occurring despite an otherwise positive economic growth outlook for Africa, that will outpace much of the rest of the world, adds Ncube of the AfDB. The 2012 African Economic Outlook published by the AfDB with other international institutions, predicts Africa's growth increasing to 4.5% in 2012 from 3.4% in 2011 in a display of healthy resilience in threatening global conditions.


The Sahel region, situated in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a transition zone between the arid north and the tropical green forest that borders the maritime coast. It lies over a surface area of 5.4 million km2 with a population of about 50 million inhabitants. Countries found in the Sahel region include Eritrea, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.


Farming happens to be the main source of income for many people of the Sahel region with millet and sorghum as the main food crops. Most low and middle-income households in this area are reliant on subsistence farming on self-sufficient farms.


‘Certainly, there is a lot of reason to worry,’ Ncube told Reuters reporters, reminiscing  on the food and fuel prices hikes of 2008 that led to social unrest and food riots in several African nations like Cameroon and Egypt, which directly affected the continent's growth. ‘It is a threat … if they [the food prices] keep rising, again we will have social upheaval that will threaten economic growth in Africa,’ Ncube said during an interview at a youth employment promotion event in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Combined with the global economic crises affecting Europe, and a slowdown in China's economic growth, another global food price crisis would definitely be catastrophic for food importers in Africa.

According to Ncube, governments and global institutions are now more aware and are ready to deal with a fresh food prices crisis. The AfDB, for instance, would be ready to financially support governments struggling to cope with sharply higher food import bills and budget crunches, adds Ncube.


A majority of Africans fall in the youth category, which represents 60% of Africa's unemployed. Despite this growth rate, the continent has failed to create the number of jobs needed to absorb a great majority of the African youth, who are definitely educated.

According to Ncube, a serious obstacle to more job creation was the persistence of what he referred to as the ‘one-sided economies’ in Africa that exported oil and raw materials instead of improving capacity in other job-multiplying areas such as commercial agriculture or agro-processing.


‘We need entrepreneurs to do it. We need to spend the time to build that business culture, the entrepreneurs,’ added Ncube of the AfDB. Commercial farming in particular, was identified by the AfDB executive as a ‘missed opportunity’ in Africa where, despite an abundance of fertile land, complex social and political issues of land, ownership and title were still hampering farming development.


Indeed commercial farming can be a remedy to the food crisis affecting the continent especially the Sahel region. Despite the projection of such an idea, it is important for African governments to give such an idea a chance to be sustainably nurtured. There are several African farmers and entrepreneurs who have the zeal to engage in commercial farming, but are discouraged by government interference in this sector. Although many African governments are eagerly awaiting financial aid from financial institutions such as the AfDB, this happens not to be a sustainable plan. Instead of waiting for such assistance, African governments need to encourage farmers and entrepreneurs to get into the commercial farming sector, by curbing on heavy taxes and regulations, which have an adverse effect on farmers.

If such measures are adopted especially by governments in the Sahel region, then tackling the food spikes is a possibility.


Chofor Che is an associate of Africanliberty and a Doctoral law candidate at the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape, South Africa. He blogs at

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