Increasing food production necessary as Africa grows

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Africa will have to find innovative ways to significantly increase its food production to cater for the rapidly growing population.

“I think it’s important that we study ways to improve production efficiency and not only ways to change animals. By changing animals, we’re not necessarily improving their production efficiency. We must make sure if we change animals genetically, we improve their production efficiency as well,” ARC researcher of Applied Animal Breeding Michiel Scholtz told CNBC Africa.

Low income countries already face serious challenges in satisfying basic needs, including food, water and energy. Added to these trials is that of improving production efficiency.  

Scholtz added that an example of improving production efficiency would be if the weaning percentages of beef cattle in South Africa could be improved. This is as the current average is only 60 per cent.

That means from 100 cows, the country is only weaning 60 calves. If that can be increased to 80 calves, it will have an enormous effect on the economic efficiency of the system and reduce the carbon and water footprint of beef production in the country.

“Up to now, we didn’t concentrate on increasing production efficiency when we breed animals for a specific purpose. The challenge is to identify the traits that we should change to improve production efficiency,” Scholtz explained.

“It’s easy to increase the size of a cow, but what we actually should do to keep the cow size the same, but increase the weight of the calf.”

Research predictions are that there will be two billion more people in the world by 2050, half of which will be in Africa.

This means that food production will have to be increased by more than 300 per cent to feed the people. The challenge is how we’re going to do that.”

He added that while the continent has the resources, and Africa could become the food basket of the world, it’s a question of how ready the continent’s farmers are, and whether or not they have the knowledge and research findings to implement what is necessary.

“It’s also important to note, and not many people are aware of it, that 70 per cent of all the food in the world is produced by small-scale, subsistence or pastoral farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Why can’t the small-scale farmers in South Africa also increase their production levels? They need the tools from research to be able to achieve that,” said Scholtz.