AFRICA will be home to a quarter of the world's population by 2050 and has a land mass more than three times that of China.
While 220 million Africans are able to meet only their basic needs today, they will become part of a demanding consumer group by 2025 and beyond.
Moreover, as a continent with eight of the 10 fastest-growing economies globally — in terms of gross domestic product and incomes — and roughly 60% of the world's untapped arable land, the question is whether Africa is ready to feed itself and the world.
Aiden Connolly, Alltech vice president of corporate accounts, told the audience at Alltech's 30th International Symposium that Africa's agricultural production is calculated to grow 60% by 2050.
This agricultural growth far outstrips any other part of the world, including the U.S., which is projected to increase by only 40% in that time.
Currently, Africa's population represents 15% of the world's population and is expected to double to at least 2.4 billion people by 2050. Incomes in Africa are extremely low, although the expanding middle class suggests that the demand for meat, poultry and eggs will also grow.
Agriculture will be the economic driver of Africa. Even the late father of the Green Revolution and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug recognized Africa's food production potential in feeding the world. Before Borlaug passed away, he told his granddaughter, Julie Borlaug Larson, that his biggest regret was not bringing the Green Revolution to Africa.
As noted in recent reports from the U.N. and World Bank, ramping up the agriculture industry in Africa could be the quickest way to address rural poverty and hunger.
Africa is the land of opportunity, with its vast abundance of sunshine, rain and land — the same valuable natural resources that are scarce in other parts of the world, Connolly explained.
Africa's agriculture sector has been experiencing growth. The chicken and broiler market is on a trajectory that will make it the same size as Brazil's or Thailand's in only five years. Dairy and beef production will closely follow.
Additionally, Alltech's 2014 "Global Feed Tonnage Survey" revealed that Africa has been the fastest-growing feed-producing continent for the past two years.
Dr. Christel Coetzee, ADVIT Animal Nutrition technical director, told the symposium that Africa's favorable climate drives the production of animal feed, with the majority of the feed produced in West and South Africa. In 2013, Africa's feed production totaled 31 million tons, and most was produced by small farmers.
Nevertheless, unlocking the agriculture industry's potential to provide quality products for the domestic and global marketplaces will not be without its challenges. Africa's land mass is large enough to house within its border China, the U.S., Russia and Western Europe combined.
Most farms have three cows and a goat, so the idea of raising non-roaming livestock on a larger scale is an unfamiliar concept for African livestock producers. In order for beef and dairy operations to be profitable, wild animals must be isolated from domesticated herds to prevent the spread of diseases.
Coetzee said Africa's animal feed industry faces the challenges of available water sources and competition with human nutrition for raw materials.
In addition, policies in some countries prohibiting the planting of genetically modified crops has restricted yield potential, particularly for soybeans.
Irrigation alone could boost crop production yields by 50%, according to Coetzee.
While oil and gas supplies are not necessarily a problem in Africa, electricity availability is an issue.
However, the biggest problem is access to markets, especially global markets, including viable investment in infrastructure such as roads and transportation.
Investment in new technology and adopting new techniques could move Africa closer to being "the next Brazil" in terms of agricultural production.
As a continent that is often portrayed as having much political and social instability, it may be surprising to many, from a business perspective, to find the level of investment already taking place in Africa.
Africa had the same direct amount of foreign investment as China in 2008, Dr. Mark Lyons, Alltech vice president of corporate affairs, explained.
Furthermore, Africa has attracted investment — totaling $72 billion in 2013 — from China, India, Korea and Brazil for several reasons, including countries having a low level of debt and massive youth populations, with 50% of people under the age of 25.
"Africa has the youngest global population, with 11 million people every year coming into the workforce — 11 million people with new types of thinking (and) new technologies where they can leapfrog and think of things in a totally different way," Lyons said.
He said the energy of African youth is refreshing, but they need education and resources.
In order to make Africa the next big thing, the continent will need to be transformed from being highly dependent on food imports to becoming a potential food exporter. It will take additional foreign investment — mainly from the private sector — to overcome the present food production obstacles.