Article written

  • on 30.07.2015
  • at 06:19 PM
  • by Naomi Cohen

Africa’s Growing Population: An Untapped Dividend or Curse? 0

Africa’s rapidly growing population presents a unique set of challenges as well as opportunities for the continent. If properly harnessed, the potential for economic development in the long term could be enormous.

While Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)’s population currently stands at approximately 856 million, the World Bank estimates that another half a billion people will be added to the continent by 2030. They further project that the continent will be home to two billion people by 2050, and that three out of every four persons added to the global population between now and 2100 will be in Africa.

There are a myriad of factors driving this population growth. Better health care, for instance, means more babies are surviving birth complications, and fewer adults are dying from preventable diseases. On the negative side, early marriages have been cited as among causative factors for the high birth rates in Africa. On average, mothers in Africa have 5.2 children, compared to the global average of 2.5. In Niger for instance, the country with the world’s highest fertility rate, mothers average 7.6 births, up to five times the European average of 1.6 children per woman.

However, considering that human capital accounts for up to 60% of input to the development process, and 60% of Africa’s population is made up of young people  between the ages of 15 and 25, questions about how the continent’s demographic transition can become a dividend and leveraged as a pathway out of poverty are indeed valid.

Population Growth: An Instigated Challenge

Africa’s growing population is, however, beset with challenges. SSA has the youngest population in the world but poverty is rife among these youths. More than 70% live on less than $2 USD per day and youth unemployment on the continent is as high 60%. Going forward, it is approximated that 350 million young people under the age of 25 years will be entering the labor market by 2035. This growing youthful population, coupled with poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity, has been cited as precipitating and instigating a number of challenges on the continent, including terrorismillegal migration, and popular uprising over fundamental challenges which, if left unaddressed, will constrict long-term development.

Tapping Untapped Population Potential

Opportunities for the continent to turn its population growth into a population dividend are untapped. From agriculture, to energy, to an expanding middle class which represents a growing market, opportunities abound for inclusive economic growth and job creation. 

An Untapped Agriculture Sector: The entire agro-value chain can be optimized by using Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA) approaches and applying value addition technologies for processing, storage, market and financial access, among other things. This will ensure elimination of hunger while creating many jobs and combating poverty sustainably. Moreover, growth in agriculture is at least two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than in other sectors. Agricultural growth also stimulates productivity in other sectors, such as food processing.

Continue reading on This is Africa

by Dr. Richard Munang and Robert Mgendi

Photo Credit: Corbis/James Marshall

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