A couple of billion reasons why Africa is a priority for the future
Christophe Pelletier, The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.
More than three years ago, I had posted on this blog the list of the 16 most populated countries in the world by then. It helped put things in perspective in today’s world, but looking ahead, another table is more useful. Here is the list of the 16 most populated countries in 2050 and 2100 according to the UN.
% of world population
% of world population
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Immediately, some interesting information appears. China is already reaching a plateau and it will decline later. Most of Asia will have reached its peak of population by mid-century. India’s population is going to keep growing in the coming decades and with regards to food security, the country has still lots of work ahead. However, with the growth of its middle class, the situation should improve gradually in the future. The continent that will see the strongest population growth is Africa. Between now and the end of the century, eight countries will account to over half of the world’s population increase from currently 7.2 billion to 10.9 billion, with six of these countries being on the African continent. These eight countries are Nigeria, India, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia and the USA. It is worth noticing that the population of Nigeria will pass the population of the USA before mid-century. For a country the size of Texas, the challenge is huge, especially considering the current political instability. Other small countries such as Tanzania and Uganda are going have to cope with a very strong population increase.
The challenge for Africa is clear. Most of the countries with a strong population increase are poor countries that already have serious difficulties to feed themselves. African agriculture has not followed the pace of other regions in terms of productivity and yields. Many rural communities are poor and can hardly subsist. The flip side Africa having lagged in agricultural development is that it has huge potential to increase its food production. At the beginning of the current decade, the FAO estimated the area of unexploited arable land in Africa to be roughly the size of continental USA. By increasing acreage in production with higher yields, there is plenty of room to increase production volumes to sufficient levels. Food production is the not the only problem. To solve hunger, these countries must eliminate poverty. People who have enough money to buy food are not hungry. Only the poor are. And to have enough money, one needs a decent paying job. For the future of Africa, employment is really where the battle will be won or lost. Between now and the end of the century, Africa will have to create 600 million new jobs, and to get jobs, people need to have the proper education and training. They also need to be healthy. As the expectation is that most of the population will be living in cities, another challenging goal will be to build these urban centers and all the necessary infrastructure to move the goods and the people. Such megacities will also need to be food secure and urban planning will need to take food distribution and food production into account. Education, health care, construction, infrastructure, jobs, food and agriculture… This sounds like building an entire continent doesn’t it? And that is exactly what it is. Expect Africa to be a huge construction site! Action must be taken and properly phased out over the next nine decades. If the challenges are many, so are the opportunities and the benefits in the long term.
So what does it take to make this happen? The answer to this question is rather simple. The implementation and proper execution is less so. It will take money, and a lot of it. There is plenty of that, though. The Central bankers of developed countries did not have to think too long to start printing a couple of trillion dollars, emitting bonds and doing the quantitative easing as needed to save the financial sector when the system was imploding in 2008 and since then. Building Africa would not require more money than that. If there has ever been a need for Keynesian economics, the Africa of the coming decades is it! Not only the money pumped in the system would allow projects to happen, but it will be the basis to create the many jobs that will be required to build all that is needed. The challenge for Africans is to have and to provide the training required to qualify for the jobs come.
To rise from its current situation, the task is somehow comparable to rebuilding Europe after World War II. Both the Europeans and the Americans who provided financial help by then can tell the Africans what a great period of prosperity followed for them. Africa needs a Marshall plan of its own, but it also must convince the rest of the world that it will put the money at work. And that is where the second crucial component of success – or failure – resides: leadership. Africa needs strong visionary leadership with integrity that will not only make things happen, but also will keep the energies focused on a long-term effort. Another eighty-six years to complete it all before the end of the century will not be too many. Africa will have to bring forward a new generation of leaders that will follow a course that is quite different from the one many of their predecessors followed. Encouraging investors will require fighting corruption, starting with a leadership by example. Corruption is a theme that I hear regularly from businesses that would like to engage in Africa, but that feel reluctant to do so for that very reason. Endeavours may be risky, but they have the potential to be quite rewarding for those who will dare and have the patience to wait to reap the fruits. As for anything else anywhere else, there will be success stories and some failures, but that is the way the world goes. It will be important to factor in disappointments and a percentage of mistakes and failures to assess the true future return. One thing is sure: searching for a quick return is probably not the best strategy over there.
Africa is diverse. The challenges will vary per country and so will the quality of the leadership. I expect the political geography of Africa to change between now and 2100 (actually much earlier than that). Borders are inherited from the independence from the colonial power and they do not always reflect a good partition for the future. Sometimes this may happen peacefully and sometimes unfortunately not. Note that I never said it will be easy. Nonetheless, the continent must move forward and the countries must develop their economies.
Although it will not be simple, I am optimistic about future changes in Africa. In my limited dealings with young professionals from Africa, I can say that this new generation is highly motivated and keen to succeed. In my contacts, I have many bright, smart and well-educated young African professionals in the field of food and agriculture. I enjoy their energy and desire to change the course of the future. They have travelled and they know quite a bit about food production in other places. They push relentlessly to bring new dynamics and I do believe that they will make good things happen. But they will need all the help and support to have access to the right resources and knowledge to succeed.
For some reason, since I started the Food Futurist, I have always considered that Africa will be playing an important role in the future of food and agriculture. I have believed immediately in its potential and I have never been shy about it. This has sometimes created interesting situations such surprise or disbelief from my audiences and clients. I guess I was a little early with my predictions, but I have had the pleasure to hear some of them who looked at me as if I had a sunstroke who now advocate in favour of Africa’s food and agriculture potential. It just took them a year or two to come to the same conclusion. I guess the first part of my work has been done. Now, I really would like to be involved with organizations that want to build solid pragmatic market-oriented food production in Africa.
% of world population
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Copyright 2013 – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.
The road to nowhere
Dedicted to her, to Alina
I was looking at the road
in front of me and my mind was trying to remember how many bends there where
before I would arrive at Alina’s house. It was proving hard to do. The only
thing I could think of was how impatient I was to see her. I did not even
notice that the vegetation along the road looked different. My desire was
overcoming my ability to think, to reason.
The image of Alina’s face
was drawing me forward, I was driving at a near-uncomfortable speed. I felt
like a knight riding his horse at breakneck speed on his way back from a battle
he had won. Won, of course, for otherwise he would not be on his horse, on the
road, on the way to his lover. Or maybe it had not been a battle but a solitary
duel with a dragon.
My car crossed a bridge. I
held my sword firmly. Losing it would have meant death. I could not lose it or
be defeated – God rewarded me for my faithfulness to my beloved. And God alone
knew the outcome of my battle.
I stopped my car at a fork,
unsure which road to take. My memory faltered. Perhaps, I thought, I should
consult a doctor – this was perhaps an early sign of dementia. I looked at the
map folded on the passenger seat.
A lake – yes, I
remembered : Alina’s house overlooked a lake. To reach it I would have to
cross a bridge – the very same bridge that appeared on the map. Yes, a narrow
bridge – so narrow I had had to get out of my car and cross it on foot the
previous time. Will the bridge still be there, I wondered ? Perhaps it was
destroyed by the dragon. The dragon that had tried to block the road to Alina’s
house. But I had killed the dragon. Or had I?
If the bridge was
destroyed, I would have to turn back and drive for another couple of hours to reach
the house from the west. The bridge was the shortest route, though. If I drove
for another hour and found the bridge to have been destroyed, and then drive
back and take the secondary road, I would arrive by nightfall. What was I to do?
I remembered when Alina had
taken the decision to buy the house. She
had inherited enough money to make the down payment and took on a rather large
debt. She had liked the house and did not want to lose it to another buyer. It
was followed by endless visits to furniture stores to find the right elements
for each room. She had wanted ‘casual’ furniture.
Suddenly I had a doubt – was
that what had really happened? Was I not inventing the whole thing up? I was
away when that happened so how should I know? Did she tell me? Too many things
had happened, we had talked about many things she and I for me to remember all
of them, and in the right sequence.
The universe had been
stable at that time and time was continuous. Plans could be made, days unfolded
in an ordained manner. They no longer did. Some years were in the present and
some in the future. Pre- and post- had become meaningless. One was constantly
transported from one to the other.
Apparently space too had
started to change.
The house had a massive
black gate I remembered. It was meant to prevent unwanted visitors from
entering the garden.
I had had too many desires
at the time. The main one had been to spend time with Alina, but that never
happened. Disappointment, internal unbearable pressure. Other projects came up
and we became strangers to each other. There had been a car collision at a
major intersection. A fight between the two drivers. He thought he had been one
of these two men.
I had become an invalid and
all my projects had failed. A bout at a psychiatric hospital. I had wanted to
find the other driver and kill him.
Nothing seemed to be of any
concern of mine. The speed at which I drove, the clothes I wore, the food I
I looked at the map again.
I must have traveled a bigger distance than I thought I had.
The pavement of the road
was deformed. The trees seemed to be fading away. The present was sliding away
– into the past or into the future. It would be difficult to find Alina, I
thought, as I had only brought along a map of the present. Did Alina expect me
by the way?
I remembered the outline of
the house. It resembled that of a sailing ship.
The sails of a ship. Time
and space had become like the sails of a ship – moving with the wind. The wind
of change. The change we humans had brought about without hesitations, our
mistakes, our mistaken beliefs.
We could have changed our
beliefs. We were all too individualistic to do so, however. There was no unity
in our society. We all moved at random. Run out of luck – that is what happened
to us. We run out of luck.
Our governments had
programs, but they thought there was no urgency to apply them. Politicians were
actors putting up a play for fools. Our bodies were poisoned – by the food we
ate and the air we breathed. Jobs dominated our lives. It was only when we
started tampering with our genome that things started changing. We imprinted
new memories in both adults and newborns.
It was to change our behavior,
we were told; to save the planet. Men turned against men – those that believed
these changes were for the good of humanity and those that did not.
It must have been around
that time that the first dragons woke up. He could read people's thoughts. They
laid eggs and more dragons hatched. They had proved impossible to destroy.
I had desires and wanted to
have Alina in my arms. And now I wanted to go back to the past where she had
stayed, waiting for me. From there, I would take her with me to the future. The
future was a reality, just as the present had once been. That was why I was
Although the future regularly
erupted into the present, it remained largely unknown. The cycles were
irregular and no one had been able to draw a calendar of even the wildest
approximation. Total uncertainty.
I tried to take my bearings
again. Trying to structure my thoughts. Attempting to recall the points in the
horizon where the sun rose and where it set. Forcing my mind to recall when had
summer been and when had it given way to the fall. Perhaps, I thought, the
world order had been disturbed because Alina and I had broken all conventions.
The conventions that structured society as we know it. Or at least as we knew
it. We had spent too many days holding each other, not seeing the sun rise.
Maybe that was why it no longer wanted to do so regularly. The recurrence of
the natural order of things had been broken. Our acts had undermined the rules
of heaven and repudiated the laws established by men.
Altering the future, however,
They had talked of global
warming and of the destruction of the planet. Thwarting progress, distressed
climate refugees, acceptance of humans destroying nature.
I had accepted too – had
thought nothing was possible to prevent the earth from losing what nature had
taken millions of years to establish. The pyrrhic victory of homo: losing the sapiens by becoming a destructive god. A philosopher had said God
was dead. It was expected, pundits said, without explaining why.
Predictions abounded on the
fate of the planet. Return to an uncivilized society as if we had ever been
civilized. As if holding Alina in my arms and savagely making love to her was a
civilized gesture. As if licking her shoulder, her throat, the tips of her
breasts was what civilization had led to. Kisses of despair. We have no future
I had said to her.
People dying of cancer,
mutations ascribed to pollution. Statistics showing soaring number of young
people committing suicide. Banning of smoking, banning of exhaust fumes –
waiting for the ban so as to be able to breathe.
Street fighting between
desperate people who wanted governments to use their nuclear weapons and those
wishing to die in peace – killing each other, rivers of red blood in the
gutters. The UN organizing meeting upon meeting, representatives showing
graphs, making forecasts, all as useless as the previous ones. A gypsy reading
my hand and saying ‘You will survive.’
clamped down on freedoms: the press, the groups, the individuals, reminding all
of us they had the monopoly of violence. A total ban on predictions. They could
impact dangerously on decisions. The gypsy refused to talk.
And me telling you ‘I love
And all these measures to
no avail. There seemed to be no future, which is why I would tell you ‘I love
you’ instead of ‘We will love each other forever’.
They started culling the
population. I think this is when the future and the past started merging. The
present had never existed anyway. It was to punish humankind of their excesses.
They had to invent a word
for this movement: they called it protempo.
Knowledge was transmitted
from the future to the past, altering it. Protempting it. History books were
I looked at the road in
front of me. Was it yesterday’s or today’s road, or the road to the future? I
could not make sense of the three worlds cohabiting. Difficult, if not
impossible, to process them intellectually. Tomorrow was always different from
Nothing was obvious any
more. The present was substantially different from the past and the future was
even more difficult to apprehend. Maps were worthless pieces of paper – I
wondered why I had bothered taking one along -
and GPS systems had been stopped years ago.
The only way to find Alina,
I thought, was to connect through our unconscious.
She was much younger than
me so she should still be alive. Maybe she still taught in the same school,
assuming the school still existed. And that she lived in the same house.
I remembered her words –
‘think positive,’ she would say, ‘it WILL happen.’ She thought she was aware of
the future. Of what it would bring. She never mentioned what it would take
The first thing I lost was
my sanity, my awareness of being me.
Standing here I was trying
to shorten the past. Pretend all these years did not matter. And indeed it did not matter – I moved from life to death with the
swings of time.
How long had it been –
fifteen, eighteen or twenty years – since we had last seen each other? I was
unable to count. That was before madness and war. Before the hordes of climatic
refugees destroyed the civilizations that had been patiently built over
I had often looked, in the
streets of the cities I had crossed, at women which had a vague resemblance to
your beauty. But the resemblance was always vague and their voice so different
from the melody that came out of your lips.
I was put on a train, sent
far away – changed trains more times than I was able to count. Train after
train leading me away from you. Trains going at times towards the past and at
times towards the future. Trains returning to the same station they had left.
Not only time, but space too seemed to have been disrupted.
I was standing by my car,
not knowing if it was the scenery that had changed or if I myself no longer
existed. That you, Alina, and me, were no longer in the same time warp.
In the long hours I stood
there, the sun never set. That is how I found out I was dead. It was a strange
feeling, I must confess. A feeling that my body was no longer mine. My sense of
self had disappeared. Perhaps it was because you once told me I belonged
entirely to you, that my heart beat in your chest rather than mine.
‘You are hallucinating,’
had said the doctor. I was depressed and hallucinating. And taking medication,
except I would often forget to swallow those tablets. It did not matter because
they only made things worse anyway.
Her hand seized mine. Her
hand tried to seize mine. Her eyes looked into mine. She squeezed my fingers.
Her eyes are of a deep blue
surrounded by a green aura.
Her body leaned against
mine. Her lips poked mine.
We had finally found each other.
The road led nowhere and it
did not matter. We were both dead anyway.