The highest population growth rate in the world is in Sub-Saharan Africa. The population in this region of the world will increase by almost 30 percent in this decade, compared to an increase of just 10 percent in Asia.

Between 2010 and 2020 the population in the region will increase by 246 million and the increase from 2010 to 2050 is more than 1.2 billion, accounting for almost half of the total world increase, according to the United Nations Medium Fertility forecast. It is clear that what happens in this part of the world will have a big impact on world grain demand both in the next few years, but especially over the longer term.

Many of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa are extremely poor and a large portion of the world’s malnourished are located in this region. In addition, per capita consumption is erratic due in large part to extremes in growing conditions in many of the countries. The data show very little change in overall per capita grain consumption during the 1990s. Total per capita grain consumption was around 335 pounds in the beginning of the 1990s and slightly less at the beginning of the 2000s. During that decade per capita consumption of corn fell, replaced by sorghum and wheat.

But per capita consumption has increased since 2000. Average per capita grain consumption for the 2009 through 2011 period was 365 pounds, 9 percent above the average for 1999 through 2001. The biggest increase during this period was in per capita corn consumption, up 22 pounds. Rice and wheat consumption also increased by about 10 pounds each. The combination of higher per capita consumption and the increase in population pushed total grain demand up by 40.8 million tonnes over the 2000s.

But at least so far, most of the increase in demand has been met by gains in domestic production. Grain production in the region increased by 31 million tonnes during the decade with most of the increase in imports of wheat and rice. Grain area harvested has increased by 17 percent over the period and production is up nearly 40 percent with a 70 percent increase in rice production and corn production up by 55 percent. For these poor countries the high cost of imports is one factor limiting the growth in total consumption.

The increase in grain area in Sub-Saharan Africa is surprising. Almost 60 percent of the total increase in world grain area during the last decade was in this region. Area increases in Sub-Saharan Africa far exceed those in South America or the former Soviet Union countries. Countries with grain area increases of more than 1 million hectares include Niger (2.9 million hectares), Tanzania (1.9 million hectares), Mali (1.3 million hectares), Sudan (1.3 million hectares), Burkina Faso (1.2 million hectares) and Cameroon (1.0 million hectares).

Even with big increases in these countries, some of which have pretty hostile growing environments, overall grain yields in Sub-Saharan Africa have increased by 17 percent during the 2000s. The ability of this region’s production to keep pace with the growth in demand is unclear. If per capita consumption holds constant at current levels, demand rises by 29 million tonnes by 2020. If per capita demand rises by 9 percent again in the 2010s, the rise in demand totals 46 million tonnes. This region of the world becomes even more important beyond 2020 as the population continues to rise faster than it does anywhere else in the world.