The adoption of exaggerated forms of monoculture and the progressive reduction of the time reserved for forest fallows have led to the degradation of the land and the consequent impoverishment of the local populations, dedicated to subsistence agriculture. Only in the territories that, due to their more favorable climatic and environmental conditions, lent themselves to the settlement of Europeans (South African Republic, Zimbabwe, Kenya) has agriculture taken on more rational and varied forms, as well as in Algeria and Tunisia, with the ‘introduction of citrus growing, viticulture, olive growing, etc. Elsewhere, however, a clear separation has been established between crops destined for export (cocoa, coffee, tea, cotton, sugar cane, tropical fruit, oil seeds) and crops intended for local food (mainly cereals and tubers: cassava, batata), the former – which often account for 80-90% of the exports of individual countries – subject to price fluctuations on international markets, the latter less and less able to cover needs of the population. In fact, the productivity allowed by the traditional techniques of soil exploitation is very low, which have remained unchanged in many areas over the centuries and are characterized by itinerant forms and the clearing of woodlands by means of fires. Even breeding, especially in the areas of the savannah and pre-desert steppe, is still linked today to seasonal transhumance, typical of a nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralism, constantly oppressed by the scarcity of water and pastures. which in times of drought often leads to the death of tens of thousands of cattle. The result is a strong depression also in this field, although the African livestock heritage is anything but negligible for the number of heads. However, it is not adequately reflected in the production of meat and dairy products, with the exception of the regions with more advanced agriculture, where the yield of slaughtered cattle is close to European averages.
While in the past the problem of hunger did not arise in Africa with the gravity of other underdeveloped areas, it has been assuming dramatic proportions, accentuating a trend that had appeared since the 1960s, when the increase in gross national product was, for various countries, already less than population growth. In the last decades of the twentieth century, the average annual rate of increase in agricultural and food production for the entire African continent (excluding the Republic of South Africa, see countryaah) has progressively decreased and, taking into account the rate of demographic increase, the values are now globally negative. The decline was general, but not uniform, resulting particularly accentuated for central and western Africa, including the sahel hardest hit by drought. Overall, for cereals alone, it is estimated that the rate of food self-sufficiency has greatly decreased and the forecasts for the future are even more worrying, given the difficulty of promptly implementing an adequate policy in this sector; it is also necessary to stop a process that has led to wild clearing at the expense of the forest and savannah, favoring the advance of deserts and, consequently, the loss of agricultural land. However, since approximately half of Africa’s agricultural land is actually cultivated, the lines of development indicated by the FAO and from other international organizations no longer tend, as in the past, to expand the agricultural area, but to make better use of the land and to increase production, through the use of fertilizers, of selected seeds, of irrigation systems, also intensifying the fight against parasites and perfecting systems for preserving products. The scarcity of financial means and the severe difficulties deriving from environmental conditions and technological delay, however, tend to slow down the development and diversification programs of crops, not allowing to reduce dependence on foreign countries for the supply of agricultural and food products. To tackle the problem, even in the face of the recent and repeated drought crises, FAO has also organized a satellite information system capable of monitoring the progress of vegetative cycles on a continental scale and, above all, of predicting any new crises: this allows, if nothing else, to estimate the overall situation of the food supply in relation to bioclimatic conditions and to plan interventions both, where possible, within the framework of cultivation techniques, and international aid. The panorama of the primary sector is completed by the huge forest resources, especially in the equatorial belt, only partially used for transport difficulties. New attention is then dedicated to fishing, a traditional activity of inland riparian, river and lake areas, but today more and more intensely practiced in the rich Atlantic banks.