Agriculture in Africa: An Overview of Selected Countries (Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa)

Ifeoluwa Ola and Emmanuel O. Benjamin

The agriculture sector contributes significantly to the economies of African countries. The sector is instrumental in eradicating poverty and hunger, boosting intra-Africa trade and investments, prompting rapid industrialization and economic diversification as well as ensuring sustainable environmental management (NEPARD, 2013).  More than 20 percent of all employment on the African continent is related to agribusiness making it an important contributor to Gross Domestic Product – GDP (FAO/NEPARD, 2002). Thus, agriculture development and innovation is essential for human security and shared prosperity on the African continent. Subsistence farming system is the dominant system of agriculture on the continent, which comprises 33 million farms of less than 2 hectares, equivalent to approximately 80 percent of all farms, with family being the major source of labor employed in food production (NEPARD 2013). Agricultural production in Africa has experienced modest but steady yield over the last 30 years due to land expansion, labour force growth and/or reduced traditional fallow periods with modest technological adoption (NEPARD 2013). Population growth is also one of the factors that has hindered the impact of the agriculture development. Furthermore, Lack of access to markets, unsustainable resources and ecosystem management, land pressure, climate change and rising food prices, have hindered agriculture development in Africa.

African agricultural systems are vulnerable to climate change owing to their strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and continued natural resources mismanagement (Benjamin et al. 2018). Compounding this situation is the high levels of poverty, low levels of human capital, low adaptation and mitigation measures and poor infrastructural development (FANRPAN, 2017). Climate-smart Agriculture (CSA) offers an opportunity for Africa to develop and scale-up appropriate technologies and practices that respond to the changing climate and meet increasing food demand. CSA is defined by FAO (2010) as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and poverty reduction”. CSA practices ranges from agroforestry to aquaponics.  CSA should also strive to promote gender equity and increase women’s adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change, access to credit and markets, extension services (Benjamin et al. 2016; Benjamin et al. 2018). A number of these practices has been adopted by different African countries and there has been positive outcomes. (Nyasimi et al. 2014; Benjamin et al. 2016; Benjamin et al. 2018). Some facts about the agricultural system in four countries across the continent namely: Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are presented below.


Agriculture’s contribution to the GDP of Cameroon was 14.2 percent in 2018, accounting for the employment of 46.3 percent of the work force either on a full time or part time basis (WDI, 2019). Agricultural activity in the Cameroon in recent times has experienced drawbacks due to civil unrest in certain parts of the country resulting in input shortages and the depletion of households’ productive assets (incl. livestock). However, CSA practices adopted in Cameroon such as sustainable agroforestry management have being observed to provided multiple benefits that increase productivity, sequestrate carbon, rehabilitate degraded lands and build resilience (Nyasimi et al. 2014). It is paramount that subsistence farms and small rural agribusinesses in Cameroon are equipped with sustainable technologies resilient to climate change in increasing productivity. Such sustainable agricultural system, not only in Cameroon but across Africa, must be design in such a way that it gives famers access to well-tailored financial and non-financial services and profitable markets (Benjamin et al. 2016).


Agriculture is the second contributor to Kenya’s GDP with 34 percent after the service sector and it employs the highest proportion of the country’s work force, approx. 61.1 percent, hired either on a full- or part-time basis in 2018 (WDI 2019). Kenya’s climatic condition is arid and semi-arid with only 20 percent of the rain-fed land suitable for agriculture production such as tea, coffee, corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruit, vegetables etc. (Mati, 2006). Climate change, diseases and pest, poor conditions of infrastructures, soil nutrient depletion and aging technology adversely affect Kenyan agricultural system (KARI, 2019). This is a trend found in a number of African countries. In Kenya, CSA approach that has been used as a risk management strategy and in adapting to climate variability/change (Nyasimi et al. 2014; Benjamin et al. 2016; Benjamin et al. 2018).


Agriculture accounted for 21.2 percent of the Nigerian GDP in 2018 and employed 36.6 percent of the work force or approximately 23 million individuals (WDI, 2019). Agricultural productivity in Nigeria is hindered by problems such as poor infrastructural development, limited research and development, modest processing facility, unsustainable land management, volatile input/output prices, corruption and climate change just to mention a few (Nchuchuwe and Adejuwon, 2012; Olukunle, 2013). Climate change may also be driving the current conflict in the country over scare resources (arable land) between crop producers and pastoralist as well as water stress. To this end, agrarian households in Nigeria have been introduced to diverse CSA trainings and strategies as a means of adapting to the challenging production environment (FAO 2019). In Nigeria, improved variety that increase crop resilience to drought and increase productivity has been introduced as well as carbon sequestration measures, rehabilitation of degraded lands to halt the massive desertification on-going in the country (Nyasimi et al. 2014)

South Africa

South Africa operates an agricultural system consisting sizable commercial farms and subsistence-based intensive crop production, mixed farming and animal husbandry. The agricultural sector contributed 2.2 percent to the GDP in 2018 while employing approx. 5.2 percent of the work force (WDI 2019). Irrigation is the major source of water for crop production with around South Africa has been found to be food secure during a “normal year”, meaning productivity of major agricultural products is well above average and export of surplus (Joshi, 2016). A major challenge to current and future productivity gains in South African agriculture system is the supply of water given the extreme rainfall patterns.  CSA that are related to crop resilience and productivity under drought spells has been introduced to the South African farmers (Nyasimi et al. 2014).


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Economics of small-scale aquaponics system in West Africa: A SANFU case study

The combination of hydroponics and aquaculture in a closed system is the essence of aquaponics and soilless agriculture. Aquaponics is hypothesized to have the potential to improve nutrition security in developing countries, but this is an issue that has received limited attention. This study evaluates data from the small-scale aquaponics project “Sustainable Aquaponics for Nutritional and Food Security in Urban Sub-Saharan Africa” (SANFU). The SANFU aquaponics system primarily relied on relatively expensive foreign sourced components to validate the technical feasibility of this production system. This aquaponics set-up can yield ca. 27.9 kg of fish and 3 kg of vegetables per annum with a nitrogen outflow of 48.5 g. This corresponds to a rather unfavorable Net-Discounted Benefit-Cost Rate (DBCR) of 0.08 over a 20-year period. Conversely, the same system that uses locally sourced components and a higher fish stock density was simulated to have a DBCR of 1.12. Thus, aquaponics systems may be economically feasible if fabricated with local materials, which contributes to food and nutrition security of the beneficiaries.

Keywords: Aquaponics; fish; nitrogen out-flow; profitability analysis; vegetables


We would like to thank the management team  and staff of Aglobe Development Center, Lagos, Nigeria, especially Mr. Dare Balogun and Sulaimon Babalola.