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President Ruto asserted that Africa will become self-sufficient through agricultural exports

Kenyan President, William Ruto, with supreme and unshakeable confidence, claimed that the African continent will become self-sufficient through its agricultural exports. He made this bold claim during the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Is he right to make such claims?

The Kenyan President is partially right. Indeed, President Ruto pointed out that Africa has 60% of the world's uncultivated arable land. He said that if this land is properly utilized, Africa could produce enough food to feed itself and export the surplus to other parts of the world.

President Ruto also called for increased investment in African agriculture. He said that this investment is needed to improve agricultural productivity, develop infrastructure, and provide access to markets.

President Ruto’s statement is supported by a number of studies. A 2019 study by the African Development Bank found that Africa has the potential to produce enough food to feed itself and export 100 million tons of food by 2030. Another study, by the International Food Policy Research Institute, found that Africa could increase its agricultural productivity by 50% by 2050 if it invests in improved seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation.

Africa population forecast to 2050

Source: Statista

The potential of Africa’s self-sufficiency through agricultural exports is confronted to two major problems, however. The first problem is demographic. Indeed, Africa is developing. But the reason why its development isn’t apparent is because its demography grows too fast. Indeed the continent’s population is outpacing the availability of food. The continent already has 1.34 billion inhabitants, and it is expected to reach about 2.5 billion people by 2050 while food supply remains insufficient to feed this growing population. As result, the continent continues to suffer from food insecurity, and this demographic problem overshadows all the economic progress that has been made.

The second problem is the continued practice of rentier economics. President Ruto claimed that agricultural exports would lead to the continent’s food security. Again, this statement isn’t wrong but needs to be assessed thoroughly. Exporting agricultural commodities without processing them first, is a mistake and this is why the continent continues to struggle. It will neither make the continent food-secured nor self-sufficient because African countries will still depend on imported goods, which will continue to exacerbate their trade deficits.

African countries do not have the upper-hand in the negotiation of the price of the commodities they export since these commodities are raw products, and raw products are not consumable until they are, first, processed. As a result, they end up buying their own commodities as imported goods for five or ten times the original price.

The self-sufficiency and food security of the African continent depend on investments in African human capital, not on the exports of agricultural commodities. With an astronomical demography, the best investment to guarantee self-sufficiency is the development of technical skills and knowledge in the African population and the infrastructures that provide these technical skills. If Africans possess the technical knowledge and skills required to become self-sufficient, then they will be able to process their own commodities and therefore have the upper-hand in the negotiation of commodity prices.

Moreover, investment in African human capital will provide jobs for many Africans because if African countries have many companies that manufacture agricultural commodities, that means many Africans will be employed to work at these companies with technical knowledge and skills they will already been having.

The transformation of agricultural commodities cannot happen until African possess technical knowledge and skills. In short, Africa’s self-sufficiency and food security lie on the development of managerial science, industrial organization, and the infrastructures that necessitate industrialization. Not on the export of agricultural commodities.


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