What are the Most Produced Cash Crops in Africa?
Agriculture makes up nearly 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy—a higher percentage than any other region worldwide.
From Nigeria to the fertile land across the East African Rift Valley, the continent is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.
Given the massive role of agriculture across the region, this infographic from Zainab Ayodimeji shows the most produced cash crops in Africa and their share of total global production.
The Top 20 Cash Crops in Africa
Cash crops, such as coffee or rice, are crops that are produced for a salable market.
With data from the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT), here are the most produced cash crops in Africa:
Tonnes Produced 2019
% of World Production
Rice, paddy (rice milled equivalent)
|Oil palm fruit||21.9M||5%|
|Groundnuts, with shell||16.6M||34%|
Cassava, also referred to as yuca, is the most produced cash crop by a wide margin. With nearly 200 million tonnes of it produced annually, Africa’s production of cassava makes up a majority (63%) of the global total.
While cassavas are not well known in the Western world, they feed 800 million people globally. Cassavas are an essential root vegetable that has similar uses to potatoes.
Sugar cane, maize, and yams are also significant cash crops.
Notably, Africa’s yam production is 97% of the global total. West Africa is known as the “yam belt,” covering Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire. With over 60 million people across the yam belt directly or indirectly involved in its production, yam cultivation is an important component of the region’s economic vitality.
Agriculture Composition of GDP, by Region
While agriculture plays a significant role in Africa’s GDP, what role does it play across other regions around the world?
Like Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is a major part of South Asia’s economy. India produces nearly 24% of rice around the world, while Bangladesh produces over 7% of total global production. Meanwhile, over 14% of the global wheat supply is also produced by India.
On the other hand, agriculture makes up just 1% of North America’s GDP. The number of farms in the U.S. peaked in the 1930s and has sharply declined from almost 7 million to 2 million in 2020.
The Future of Africa’s Cash Crops
Despite Africa’s expansive agriculture sector, there remain bottlenecks to productivity.
In light of these challenges, several technological advances have the potential to improve farmers’ bottom lines. For instance, precision technology measures rainfall, soil information, and soil productivity. At the same time, remote sensing technology can provide information on weather and climate.
This, coupled with the majority of the world’s uncultivated arable land, presents a significant opportunity for cash crops going forward. By one estimate, cereal and grain production has the potential to increase threefold.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Visualizing the World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age
How much has the world’s land use changed over the last 10,000 years, and how have forests been impacted?
Visualizing The World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age
How much of Earth used to be covered by forests, and what portion is covered today?
The effects of deforestation on the climate are already being seen and felt, and these repercussions are expected to increase with time. That’s why more than 100 world leaders pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at the COP26 climate summit.
As today’s graphic using data from Our World in Data highlights, the world’s forests have been shrinking since the last ice age at an increasingly rapid pace.
Earth’s Surface Area: 10,000 Years Ago
To examine the deforestation situation properly, it helps to understand Earth’s total available surface area. After all, our world can feel massive when glancing at maps or globes. But of the roughly 51 billion hectares in total surface area on Earth, more than 70% is taken up by oceans.
What’s left is 14.9 billion hectares of land, not all of which is habitable. Here is how the land was allocated 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age and before the rise of human civilizations.
Uninhabitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):
- Barren land (19% or 2.8bn ha)—Includes deserts, salt flats, exposed rocks, and dunes
- Glaciers (10% or 1.5bn ha)—The vast majority concentrated in Antarctica
Habitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):
- Forest (57% or 6bn ha)—Includes tropical, temperate, and boreal forests
- Grassland (42% or 4.6bn ha)—Wild grassland and shrubs
- Freshwater (1% or <510M ha)—Lakes and rivers
By 2018, forests had receded to just 4 billion hectares. What happened?
Forests and Grassland Recede for Agriculture
Once humans figured out how to cultivate plants and livestock for regular sources of food, they needed land to use.
For centuries, the loss of greenery was relatively slow. By 1800, the world had lost 700 million hectares each of forest and grassland, replaced by around 900 million hectares of land for grazing animals and 400 million hectares for crops.
But industrialization in the 1800s rapidly sped up the process.
|Percentage of Habitable Land||1700||1800||1900||1950||2018|
While half of Earth’s loss of forests occurred from 10,000 years ago to 1900, the other half or 1.1 billion hectares have been lost since 1900. Part of this loss, about 100 million hectares, has occurred in the more recent time period of 2000 to 2018.
The biggest culprit?
Though urban land use has rapidly grown, it still pales in comparison to the 31% of habitable land now being used for grazing livestock. Most of that land came at first from repurposed grasslands, but forests have also been cleared along the way.
Where Will Food Come From?
Countries pledging to stop deforestation have two major hurdles to solve: financial and survival.
Firstly, there are many companies, jobs, and economies that rely on producing and marketing goods made from forests, such as lumber.
But more importantly, the world’s rising use of land for crops and agriculture reflects our rapidly growing population. In 1900, the global population numbered just 1.6 billion people. By 2021, it had exceeded 7.9 billion, with hundreds of millions still affected by food shortages every day.
How do you feed so many without needing more land? Meat’s extremely large footprint makes prioritizing crops more attractive, and research into other solutions like lab-grown meat and grazing erosion prevention is ongoing.
As the effects of climate change become increasingly felt, it’s likely that countries, companies, and people will have to embrace many different solutions at once.
Visualizing the World’s Biggest Rice Producers
Over half of the world’s population lives on rice as a staple food, but just a few countries dominate global rice production.
Visualizing The World’s Biggest Rice Producers
It’s hard to overstate the importance of rice to the world.
As a staple food, over half of the global population depends on the crop as a major part of their diet. In fact, rice is considered a vital part of nutrition in much of Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean, and is estimated to provide more than one-fifth of the calories consumed worldwide by humans.
Which Countries Produce the Most Rice?
With 756 million tonnes produced globally in 2019, rice is the world’s third-most produced agricultural crop behind sugarcane and corn (maize), which both have a wide variety of non-consumption uses.
Just 10 countries are responsible for a bulk of global rice production:
|Country||Tonnes Rice Produced (2019)||% of Total|
At the top of the charts are China (#1) and India (#2), which produced 389 million tonnes combined, accounting for more than half of global production.
They’re significantly ahead of #3 and #4 countries Indonesia and Bangladesh, which produced around 54.6 million tonnes each. Almost all of the top producers are located in Asia, with the exception of Brazil (#10).
Feeding A Growing World
With 84% of rice being harvested in just 10 countries, it’s clear that many countries globally must rely on imports to meet domestic demand.
In 2019, India, Thailand, Pakistan, and Vietnam were large net exporters of rice, shipping out nearly $16 billion of rice combined. Other countries including Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines consume above production numbers and rely on imports to meet their needs.
And not everything makes it from plant to table. In developing countries especially, estimates of 8–26% of rice are lost due to postharvest problems and poor infrastructure.
As the global population continues to grow, rice will continue to be a key source of calories around the world—and as our diets change, it’ll be interesting to see how that role shifts in the future.
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