Urbanization and diet diversification in Africa: challenges and opportunities for the youth

The decade 2002-2012 has been Africa’s decade of unprecedented growth. The African Transformation Report 2013 states that six of the ten fastest growing economies globally in the early 2000s were in Africa: Angola at 11.1% a year, Niger 8.9%, Ethiopia 8.4%, Chad 7.9%, Mozambique 7.9%, and Rwanda 7.6%. Several others were above or near the 7% threshold for economic take-off, set to double their economies in 10 years (African Centre for Economic Transformation, 2013). Africa has experienced recent trends such as rapid urbanization coupled with diet diversification, a burgeoning youth population, and astonishing technological leaps. These trends are proving to be game changers that will accelerate African growth and transformation.

Africa going urban, the implications for economic growth

A report titled “Africa in 50 Years’ Time”by the AfDB, reveals that by 2060, Africa’s population will have radically shifted from rural to urban areas. The continent’s urban dwellers in 2010 made up nearly 40% of the total, and this will rise to 50% by 2030 and 65% by 2060. This has great and exciting implications for African growth and transformation. In this configuration, domestic demand will be boosted by new patterns of consumption. First people are diversifying beyond basic grains as incomes grow – into yams and potatoes, into fruits and vegetables, into poultry and beef and mutton and fish, into dairy and eggs, and into edible oils. Think of the number and variety of fast food outlets in any African small or mega city. It appears that even in Africa’s rural towns, people are turning towards more convenient and pre-packaged foods. McKinsey Global Institute statistics support this observation of a rapidly urbanizing and prospering African continent by showing that Africa’s middle class (US$1,000-5,000 per year) will surge from 39% of the population in 2005 to 55% in 2015. This means major income gains for Africans engaged in agriculture.

A “quiet revolution” around diets has been taking place in Africa

Recent research findings, dubbed “Africa’s Quiet Revolution,” actually states that urbanization in (Sub-Saharan) Africa has caught up with the average urban share in population of all developing countries, and that urbanization in Africa is growing faster than in the rest of the developing world (though the rates differ by sub-region). Viewed from an agriculture perspective of total marketed-food markets, African urban areas are already the majority of the African overall food economy. Rural-urban food supply chain linkages have become increasingly important as Africa urbanizes in the coming decades.

As a Social Reporter at the Fin4ag International Conference, I attended one session, where Africa Export Import Bank (Afrexim)Bank President Mr. Jean-Louis Ekrashared insights from the bank’s Africa People’s Initiative. The initiative is meant to integrate smallholder farmers higher up the value chain of high value export crops like coffee and cocoa. The President of Afrexim Bank, however, shared that most African farmers still have difficulty operating in a highly sophisticated global trade environment without the assistance of a third party, such as the Afrexim Bank in this case. The majority of African farmers today are rural women with limited or no knowledge of how the global economy functions.

Look on the bright side

We could look at the scenario of the future of African food trade from two perspectives. The first is while the export market has opportunities for the current African farmer, the growing local urban market for food products could be equally or more lucrative financially. The research on “Africa’s Quiet Revolution” also shows that the global export market for African food products is roughly 5% or at most 10% of marketed food supply, compared to the urban share of 60%. Additionally, it is estimated by the McKinsey Global Institute that African urban food markets are set to quadruple as food and beverages may reach US$1trillion by 2030. Therefore there is a great opportunity for young agricultural entrepreneurs in Africa to feed the growing urban consumer and make money in the process.

The second also revolves around one of Africa’s key strengths in the 21st century, the youth. By the way, Africa is the “youngest” continent in the world with 65% of its population below 35 years and 60% of the continent’s unemployed are aged 15-24 years (FAO Regional Agriculture Conference Annotated Agenda).About 40% of Africa’s workforce is under the age of 23 (Sustaining CAADP Momentum into The Next Decade, African Union Implementation Report, July 2012). This demographic “bulge” can provide a growth dividend for Africa. Africa’s youth are more dynamic and can quickly utilize new technology and new knowledge for satisfying the growing and more easily accessible local agri-food market as well as adapting to the global trade environment to penetrate the high value export markets.

The main challenge is that some of the African youths do not view agriculture to be attractive, yet the youth are the anchor for Africa’s growth and sustained transformation in a dynamic and complexly changing world.

by Harrison Manyumwa 

photo credit: Mohini Ufeli