Fact Sheet: Population and Food Security: Africa's Challenge

Food security is at the top of the list of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. More than 60 countries are making progress toward achieving the MDG hunger target: to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa, however, is not on track to reach this target according to the Population Reference Bureau’s policy brief Population and Food Security: Africa’s Challenge.

Key Facts

  • Food security exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 out of 4 people lacks adequate food for a healthy and active life.
  • 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are underweight—5.5 million more than 20 years ago.
  • Women in the region have on average 5.1 children; the world average is 2.5.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is projected to more than double from 856 million today to about 2 billion in 2050, even if couples choose smaller families over the coming decades.

Effects of Population Growth on Agricultural Livelihoods

  • Nearly two-thirds of the region’s people live in rural areas, relying on small-scale agriculture for livelihood.
  • As the rural population grows, farms will likely get smaller as farmers subdivide agricultural land among their children.
  • In a recent national survey in Kenya, the majority of farmers reported that their land’s production is not sufficient to support their families, and 2 out of 3 felt that there is not available land for their children to stay in the community and farm.

Women’s Role in Food Production

  • Women perform half of agricultural labor in the region and contribute even more in many countries.
  • Women face greater land constraints than men and are less likely to own land or to have access to rented land; and the land women do have access to is often of poorer quality and in smaller plots.
  • Organic and inorganic fertilizers remain prohibitively expensive for most African farmers.
  • Greater poverty, lower levels of education, and lack of credit among women prohibit them from using fertilizers and improved seed or mechanical tools and equipment.
  • In many countries, women are only half as likely as men to use fertilizers, contributing to low agricultural yields on their plots.

To request print copies of the PRB policy brief Population and Food Security: Africa’s Challenge, contact

This policy brief is produced and distributed with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development through the IDEA project. IDEA—Informing DEcisionmakers to Act—increases support among policy audiences for effective health and population programs around the world.