Natural resources are not the whole story, but they are a catalyst. Africa has about 60 per cent of the world’s unused cropland, providing it with a golden opportunity to simultaneously develop its agricultural sector and reduce unemployment. On current trends, African agriculture is on course to create 8 million wage-paying jobs between now and 2020.
With two important reforms, however, Africa could add 6 million more jobs. First, policymakers could encourage expansion of large-scale commercial farming on to uncultivated land. African countries are currently reforming land rights and water management, build up their infrastructure and improve access to inputs such as seeds, finance and insurance to boost agriculture. Such steps have allowed Mali, which built integrated road, rail and sea links to transport refrigerated goods and to increase its mango exports to the European Union six fold in just five years. Second, African economies can move from producing low-value grain to higher-value crops such as horticultural crops and bio-fuels. This does not only boost GDP, but provide much-needed jobs: staples such as grain employ up to 50 people per 1,000 hectares while horticultural products need up to 800.