The main occupation in Africa is agriculture; it employs over half of the population. Measured as a share of GDP, agriculture’s contribution to the monetary economy is 20% (1990). The industrial sector employs approximately 5% and contributes 16% of GDP. Thus measured, the service sector is of the greatest importance with approximately 45% of GDP. To these figures must be added unknown contributions from the so-called informal sector.
In agriculture, food is grown mainly for own consumption or for local sale. Maize is the main crop, but in areas where there is less water available during the growing season, millet and sorghum are grown. The cereal crops are supplemented with root vegetables (cassava, yams and sweet potatoes) and legumes (beans and peas). The importance of the individual crops varies locally according to natural conditions, just as the distribution has changed significantly over time. Maize was first introduced in the 1800’s, replacing other cereal crops (e.g. sorghum), but has since lost ground to wheat; the use of new high-performance or drought-resistant varieties has become more widespread, varieties with a shorter ripening time, which provides better security for a harvest yield where the length of the rainy season is uncertain. In turn, these varieties have increased farmers’ market dependence.
In addition to forage crops, a large variety of sales crops are grown for national markets and for export. Africa exports oily crops such as peanuts and palm oil seeds, but also coffee, tea, cocoa and fruits (e.g. dates and olives). According to CountryAAH, some countries in the continent of Africa have large exports of industrial crops, especially cotton. In the late 1900-t. exports were spread over several products, and Africa has had an increasing sale of fresh fruits, vegetables and specialty crops such as cut flowers.
The majority of agriculture consists of farms whose main labor force is family members. The women carry out most of the work in the family farm, especially with regard to the cultivation of food crops and most commonly where the men take on migrant work. In the cultivation of sales crops, men generally participate more. The increased schooling means that the children are less involved in the work than before; together with the widespread migrant work, this means that agriculture in large parts of Africa is limited by the shortage of labor during peak periods.
The cultivation systems on the family farms, just like the relationship between self-sufficiency and sales crops, has changed continuously. The most widespread cultivation systems in Africa are based on different varieties of sweat farming, where the soil regains fertility for a fallow period, before it is used for agriculture after burning, until the yield becomes too low again and the process is repeated. However, population growth and the consequent expansion of agricultural land have meant that fallow periods have become increasingly shorter and the need for fertilizer has increased. However, the use of fertilizer is not widespread in Africa due to the limited economic resources of family farms. Often the consequence is therefore declining yields, deterioration of the soil’s fertility, erosion, etc., and family farms generally have difficulty in increasing production in step with population growth.
Another problem is the low agricultural prices both on the world market and locally. National governments have tried to keep prices down in favor of urban populations, and on the world market, agricultural subsidies in Europe and the United States mean that Africa’s products face significant competition. The low prices also mean that it often pays better to invest possibly. profits in sectors other than agriculture.
Plantations. In addition to family farms, plantation farming is widespread in Africa. Many plantations are owned or managed by foreign companies, which have the necessary expertise and access to the necessary market channels. On the plantations, crops such as sugar, fruits (eg pineapple) and vegetables (eg tomatoes) are grown. In some countries (including Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire) the plantation form has been replaced by a system in which farmers supply the crops on contract terms. This reduces the foreign company’s investments and creates a group of commercialized farms which, on the basis of the security of contract cultivation, can reduce the degree of self-sufficiency. On the other hand, these uses become heavily dependent on price fluctuations in the world market.
Livestock breeding. Throughout history, cattle herds have played a major role; the grass water is utilized by cattle nomads, while in areas with more precipitation there are farmers who combine farming and livestock breeding. Cattle farming has increasingly been squeezed in the process of change in Africa. The expanding agriculture includes the grazing areas of the cattle farm; these are often the areas that have the most water and are therefore important for cattle during the dry season. At the same time, several nomads have settled around wells; it is a development that is supported in order to reduce the spread of bovine diseases, but it means that grazing resources are not being used optimally.
Although cattle farming has increasingly become market-oriented, it is characterized by the fact that several ethnic groups mainly perceive cattle as representing a wealth, a security against future problems.
Of other animals, goats and chickens in particular are widespread, and as an animal protein source they are more important than cattle. For transport, camels (dromedaries) and horses are widespread in North Africa, while donkeys are becoming increasingly important for the transport of e.g. water in the rest of Africa. The prevalence of plows in the 1900’s. has led to an increased use of oxen as draft animals.
Actual forestry is very uncommon in Africa. The utilization of the forests has been particularly extractive, as wild-growing trees have been felled and exported (especially precious wood species) or utilized locally for construction, furniture, etc. In some places, in connection with the construction of a paper industry, wood plantations have been laid out.
A systematic study of Africa’s mineral resources began only in the 1950’s, when the price of minerals peaked in connection with the Korean War. However, some mining is of considerably older date, but the continent’s mineral resources are still only used to a limited extent.
In southern Africa, large deposits of metals (gold, iron, copper and chromium), diamonds and coal are mined, and South Africa is one of the world’s most important mining countries. In Angola, a lot of oil is produced. Despite the fact that the first exploitation took place in the early 1900’s, southern Africa still has large untapped deposits, especially in Angola and Mozambique. The mineral deposits in the area are of global importance, as they include the so-called strategic minerals; economic: gold and platinum; military: vanadium, antimony, chromium and cobalt. The strategic importance of the latter metals is due to use in steel alloys in the armaments and aerospace industries.
In the rest of Africa, there are mineral deposits on several levels on a par with southern Africa, but they are exploited to a lesser extent. In Central Africa, large deposits of cobalt, tin and uranium are mined, just as several countries have oil production. West Africa was an early exporter of gold and it is still mined in Ghana. Iron ore, crude phosphate, uranium and bauxite are also mined in this region, while Nigeria is the continent’s largest oil producer. In North Africa, Libya and Algeria also have significant oil production.
Several African countries are heavily dependent on mining revenues; For example, the mining sector contributes more than 40% of GDP in the Congo and Gabon, and mineral exports make up a dominant part of the foreign economy in several places. Most years, copper and copper products account for over 90% of Zambia’s exports; Zambia is therefore very dependent on the price development of copper on the world market, and the country has been hit hard by the generally low prices of mineral raw materials in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Sea fishing is only weakly developed. A modern fishing fleet requires large investments and is found in only a few countries. Instead, several countries lease the fishing rights in their maritime territory to fishing fleets from the EU, Japan and Russia. On the other hand, coastal fishing and inland fishing are widespread and important. Catch methods vary, but motor boats and nylon nets are increasingly used. The products are often marketed dried, and for a large part of the poorest population, fish is an important source of animal protein.