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Report: Sub-Saharan Africa Farm Yields 70-90% Below Potential

Image Credit: Flickr, NasB

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s largest gap in farm yields — 70 to 90 percent below their potential — according to a new research tool unveiled Monday.

The outcome of a 6-year international collaborative research effort led by the Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas is the first transparent, interactive and map-based web platform to estimate exploitable gaps in yield and water productivity for major food crops worldwide.

The Atlas can help farmers, policy makers, foundations and private sector organizations identify regions with the greatest potential to sustainably produce more food with strategic use of resources. The Atlas also provides a digital platform for analyzing location-specific crop production and land-use changes, as well as the potential impact of certain crops or new agriculture technologies on specific areas.

Composed of data gathered by a variety of international scientists beginning in 2008, the Atlas includes information from nearly 20 countries and projects are in place in an additional 30 countries. The data show that Sub-Saharan Africa — primarily smallholder farmers practicing subsistence agriculture in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda — can potentially increase yields of existing farms by more than twofold. Other studies show that Ethiopia’s surface water and groundwater supplies could irrigate 10 times as much land than they are right now.

Research for the Atlas follows a bottom-up approach, using agronomists from each target country to identify key agricultural areas and collect data about local conditions and farming methods. Researchers scale this data to national, regional and global levels through an agro-climatic zone scheme, which considers geographic regions with similar climate conditions. The international research team is also developing methodology to accurately convert short-term weather data into long-term patterns and to scale-up local yield estimates.

In related news, SAP recently announced it will invest up to $500 million through 2020 to train local talent and drive sustainable innovation and growth in Africa, with the overall goal of establishing the continent as one of the company's top-five global growth markets. Much of the direct investment will be outside South Africa, where SAP already has a solid footprint. This will include SAP operations across 51 African countries, including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and Mauritania.

The world’s biggest brands are betting on Africa to be the next great economic boom. For example, the Coca-Cola Company and its African bottling partners recently announced an investment of $5 billion during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held earlier this month. The investment will be made over the next six years, and will increase the company’s total announced investment in Africa to $17 billion.


Based in San Francisco, Mike Hower is a sustainability strategist and storyteller on Edelman's Business + Social Purpose team where he works with some of the world's leading brands on corporate sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement. With several years of… [Read more about Mike Hower]


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