The Imperative for Green Economy Transition in African Agriculture

A green economy aims to reduce environmental risks and ecological scarcities and aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment (UNEP, 2016). The green economy model is a way to effectively solve some of the world’s most challenging problems in recent years, such as climate change, food insecurity and waste of natural resources (Ayuk et al., 2016).

More and more countries regard the green economy as a tool of economic transformation to improve food security and environmental friendliness. In Africa, agriculture contributes significantly to economic growth and is also closely linked to the safety and quality of the population’s life (Ayuk et al., 2016). African countries that master the mature green economy model sooner will hold the key to future wealth.

This article first describes the current state of agricultural development in Africa and then highlights the necessity of a green transformation of the African agricultural sector from three perspectives: climate vulnerability, international assistance and consumer demand.

African agriculture’s current situation

Agriculture was the most fundamental component of modernization in Europe, the Americas, and Asia. However, as productivity increased, the importance of industry and services began a long-term upward trend, while the share of agriculture, in terms of its contribution to the economy, started a downward trend.

In Africa, agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy, with over 60% of the population working in agriculture, far beyond the world average of 13% (FAO, 2017). However, 227 million people (a fifth of the population) in Africa face chronic food security problems. Africa has 15% of the world’s population but nearly a third of the world’s famine population (Carlos Lopez and Jun Liu, 2015). It is not difficult to speculate that the reasons behind this are closely related to the characteristics of current African agriculture.

According to Carlos Lopez and Jun Liu (2015), Africa is predominantly a smallholder economy with poor agricultural practices, resulting in low food production. For example, maize yields in Africa were 2t/hm2 in 2018 while the Americas and Europe were producing 8t/hm2 and the world average was 6t/hm2. (FAO,2018).

How to find the future direction of agriculture has become an urgent issue for Africa.

The necessity of the green economy

  • Climate vulnerability

Traditional agriculture was seen as the first evidence of increased greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere (Paustian et al., 2016). 50-60% of nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are derived directly from human agricultural activities (Awais et al., 2021). In Africa, the misuse of pesticides and manure leads to excessive nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, which have a 300 times greater impact on global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). In addition, farmers often cut down surrounding vegetation to provide more light to their arable land and prevent fertilizer run-off, leading to a reduction in vegetation. These factors further exacerbate global warming (Wenjiao Shi and Fulu Tao, 2014).

According to statistics, for every 1-degree Celsius increase in global average temperature, the average growth rate of poor African countries will decrease by 2 to 3% (Qiang Li, 2021). The 1-degree Celsius rise in average temperatures has already had severe economic impacts on African countries over the last few decades. Experts expect to experience a 2-degree Celsius rise in average temperatures between 2025 and 2040. This climate change will expose areas where crops are grown to severe droughts and high temperatures, causing crop yields to fall sharply (Ayuk, Elias et al., 2016).

The first drive for green economy transition in African agriculture is the attempt to offset the effects of climate vulnerability on agriculture.

  • International assistance

Most countries in Africa have very limited financial resources at their disposal and rely on development partners for systems and infrastructure strengthening. For example, the United Nations offers a range of international support and assistance measures to help the least developed countries. If a country is recognized as a least developed country, it receives concessions such as resource assistance, preferential market policies and exceptional technical support.

In recent years, projects with themes of sustainable development and environment-friendliness have had a high probability of external aid funding (Qiang Li, 2021). Governments of African countries need to realize that transition to a green economy can attract considerable financial resources for economic development

  • Consumer demand

The beginning of the twenty-first century has been marked by an exponential growth in consumer demand for ecologically-sound agricultural products due to the association of consumption with negative environmental problems, such as global warming and pollution (Leonidou et al., 2010; Svensson and Wagner, 2012). At the global level, 74% consumers said that they would prefer to purchase green products (Rod Newing, 2011).

“Green,” “organic,” and “natural” have become popular sales terms in the international agricultural market. More and more consumers are willing to buy healthy and high-quality agricultural products (Luzio, 2013). Improving the quality of agricultural products is the necessary basis for agricultural exports and suppliers of green agricultural products can market them competitively in developed regions. The enhanced profits can then be used to invest in advanced agricultural technology and business activities, leading to African agriculture that is more dynamic than ever.


In short, the smallholder model is destined to be replaced. The transformation of African agriculture should meet the changing needs of consumers, be tailored to access to financial resources and address the problem of climate degradation. The sooner African countries explore the green economy model, the more room for initiative they will have in the future. Although the route might be long and winding, it will be worth the effort. There is no doubt that the green economy model will persist for decades to come.

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Zhizheng Liu is a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester where he is completing a Masters in Development Economics and Policy. His focus is anti-poverty measures, income inequality and the green economy in developing countries. His background in macroeconomics gives him unique insight into solving general social problems. His experience as an intern in investment banking and consulting firms has enabled him to help NGOs and government agencies such as Chinese government from a business perspective. Zhizheng is passionate about sustainable development, economic development, and environmentally friendly policies and he wants to use his theoretical knowledge and business experience to help solve urgent problems in developing regions.

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