Food, Fuel and Flowers: trends in food production in Southern Africa

Unusually, food production has been hitting the news headlines this week as newspapers and television news picked up on World Bank concerns about rising food prices and the publication of the FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report .

The FAO report observes that as long as there are no significant climatic events, 2008/9 is likely to see an increase in global cereal production – in fact a record 2,164 million tonnes. This is a marked improvement on the situation just over a year ago when drought and crop failures in several key producing countries meant that both world agricultural production and food production were up by less than 1% on the previous year. (http://faostat.fao.org/site/339/default.aspx)
South Africa is one of the countries forecast to have a bumper crop of maize in the next year. The area devoted to maize production has been increased from 2.03 million hectares in 2006 to an estimated 3.2 million hectares for 2008. (Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report – April 2008 and FAOSTAT).
But while this sort of expansion in food production looks promising, it needs to be measured in the longer term in relation to population growth. Global population growth is driving an increased demand for cereals, not only for direct consumption, but increasingly for biofuels, which means that food production not only needs to keep increasing year on year, but it needs to do so at a faster rate than population growth. A quick glance at food production figures per capita in southern Africa shows that the production of food is struggling to keep pace with population growth in several countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all seen a decline in their food production per capita since 1990. The reasons for this are of course multi-faceted and complex. Part of the story is that high-earning, non-food crops such as cut-flowers and cashew nuts have become increasingly significant in Southern African agrarian production.