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Land utilization (percentage of total land area): Africa

Land is intensively used in most African sub-regions, with more than 50 per cent of all land in use in two subregions

Source: compiled from FAOSTAT 2001

As well as providing subsistence crops for a large proportion of Africa's population, there are increasing demands on the land to produce cash crops for export, facilitating economic growth. These demands are often in conflict, and make coherent policy development and implementation a complex and difficult task. Over the (compiled from FAOSTAT 2001). The percentage of agricultural land (cultivated and pasture) varies considerably across Africa, from 54.7 per cent in Southern Africa and 46.6 per cent in the Western Indian Ocean islands to 20 per cent in Northern Africa and 19.3 per cent in Central Africa (see bar chart). The extent to which African economies are dependent on agriculture is reflected in the contribution to GNP (approximately 17 per cent during the 1990s), and to employment - more than 60 per cent of the total labour force in 1996, although this had declined from 70 per cent in 1980 (ADB 2001).

Production has increased considerably over the past 30 years, mostly due to expansion of the area under cultivation, although improvements in cultivation methods and increased use of agrochemicals have also played a role. Cereal production in Africa was 58 million tonnes in 1975, and this had almost doubled to 106 million tonnes by 1999 (FAOSTAT 2001). Despite this, nutritional intake is still low in many parts of Africa and the number of undernourished people has doubled since 1970 (FAO 2000). The region is a net importer of cereal crops, and the ratio of imports to exports is escalating. In 2000 alone, millions of people in at least 16 African countries experienced food shortages, either due to crop failures or distribution breakdowns associated with civil conflict (FAO 2000). The lack of agricultural technologies suitable for African conditions has also contributed to under-realization of production potential (FAO 2000). Dependence on rain-fed agriculture, now that the potential for the expansion of irrigated agriculture has become limited due to water scarcity, increases the risk of food and economic insecurity, especially in areas of high climate variability. Restricted access to foreign markets, heavy agricultural subsidies in OECD countries, and limited processing before export add to Africa's vulnerability to international price fluctuations, and therefore failure to realize the full potential of its land resources.