Food security in Africa can improve substantially

Published on
October 12, 2015

Global yield gap atlas shows that food production can increase in various African countries.

Agricultural yields in many African countries could increase by a factor of three, suggesting that tremendous improvements in food security are possible. These finding were presented during the Global Yield Gap Atlas Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 22-24th of September.

The Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas (GYGA) estimates the difference between potential and actual crop yields, the so-called yield gap. The atlas uses a bottom-up approach, scaling site-specific data to regional and global levels. The atlas and the research data are available digitally via

At the conference in Ethiopia an international group, headed by Martin van Ittersum, professor of Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University, and Ken Cassman, Robert B. Daugherty Professor of Agronomy, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, presented new data showing that farmers in ten African countries achieve only 20 to 30 percent of the potential yields in their country.

The researchers looked at the cultivation of maize, sorghum, millet, wheat and rice by farmers in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Soon figures on India will be released. It is important to estimate the yield gap in these countries, because Africa’s population continues to grow. GYGA supports governments to locate and address regions with the greatest food production potential for improving national food security.

Van Ittersum: ‘The population in sub-Saharan Africa will almost triple between now and 2050. In addition, people are starting to eat more meat so agricultural production will need to rise by a factor of 3.5. If we are to prevent a large-scale increase in the area under cultivation, we will have to go all out in our efforts to raise the yields from existing farmland substantially.’