Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE
Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE

Rome — The rise of an urban middle class across much of Africa is stoking demand for food that could curb hunger and cut poverty in rural outposts, a US-based think-tank said on Wednesday.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said rural communities were in “a state of crisis”, with high poverty rates and poor services driving hunger and malnutrition. One in five people, or more than 256-million, are hungry in Africa, according to the latest figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. But there are opportunities too, the IFPRI said in its annual report.

In Africa, a growing middle class with higher purchasing power is fuelling a spike in demand for food — with an interesting twist, says IFPRI Africa director Ousmane Badiane.

“They are not just asking for imported food, wine and cheese but to have traditional staples on the tables. But they don’t want to eat them the traditional way,” he said.

This has given birth to a large number of small agribusinesses that process, package and distribute such foods, creating jobs and opportunities for small farmers, he said. In Senegal, new processing technologies led to a growth in ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat millet products and reversed years of low and declining consumption of this healthy, gluten-free grain, said the report.

Similarly, domestic brands of processed local dairy and grain products now have a significant presence in Ghana, Mali and Tanzania, it added. This sector is likely to grow further, with projections that most traditional staples such as millet and cassava would be consumed in processed form within 20 years, Badiane said.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, expected to come into force this year, would also help, he said, by allowing farmers and businesses to tap into a market of 1.2-billion people across 55 countries.

Turning opportunity into reality needs technology and financing that would allow locals to innovate and compete, he said. There should also be investment in rural areas and access to energy and telecommunications, he added. Nearly half the world’s population live in rural areas but represent 70% of the extremely poor, according to the IFPRI.

Thomson Reuters Foundation