Central Africa faces a harrowing future

New projections from the United Nations that the world’s population will hit 11 billion by the end of this century, up from 7 billion today, raise troubling questions about how to feed 4 billion new people. In that regard, it’s especially alarming that three-quarters of the growth will come from central Africa.

The UN predicts the African continent will jump from 1.1 billion people to 4.1 billion people by 2100 and account for a third of the world’s population, almost all of the growth occurring in fragile sub-Saharan countries.

Desert nations, such as Niger, have populations that already exceed the capacity of their small amount of agricultural land. Yet, Niger’s population is projected to skyrocket 20-fold.

With insufficient soils to feed its own people and no financial ability to import enough food, central Africa faces the prospect of widespread famine and death by starvation.

The World Food Program is already reporting a worsening food crisis in the Central African Republic, where many people eat only one meal a day and parents often go without food so children won’t be hungry. And Malawi, once an agricultural success, is again experiencing a severe food shortage.

Where will help come from to head off or lessen such tragedies?

During President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Africa, he announced several new areas of support, even while signaling a desire to wean the continent off U.S. foreign aid. Perhaps the most import of those is a program to fund U.S. educations for several thousand young African leaders.

A continent rife with political chaos needs strong, stable leadership to put agriculture at the center of all its economic decisions. As one African leader said, “There must be a key political champion at head-of-state level to steer and champion a vision on agricultural revolution.”

Another important program called Power Africa will create a $9 billion public-private partnership to generate power for 600 million people without electricity.

Energizing Africa means refrigeration for food, as well as medicines, and powering the next stage of economic development. Reliable electrical power will attract investors and create jobs, and that will lead to greater prosperity and education levels.

And when women become more educated and autonomous, it almost always results in falling birth rates. African countries at the north and south ends of the continent are showing stable or declining birth rates.

The pressing question for Central Africa and the world is this: Can it develop a stable agricultural economy that outpaces its population growth? With America’s help in creating new leaders and electrical power, it has a fighting chance.