Africa's business sector is predominantly characterized
by self-sustaining economics, paired with production of
so-called colonial products (coffee, tea) and raw materials.
GDP for the entire continent was estimated in 2009 at USD
1,545 per capita. However, the variations in GDP are large.
These are largely explained by differences in economic
structure and trade patterns.
Agriculture and livestock management
More than half of the economically active people in
Africa are employed in agriculture. This also accounts for
just under 20% of GDP. About 6% of the total area is
cultivated, while another 26% is used as pasture. The
natural conditions for agriculture differ in many respects
from those in other continents. Usable areas are separated
by large areas that are not at all or only marginally
suitable for agriculture. Moreover, in large parts of the
usable areas the soil fertility is quite low. The best soils
are found in limited upland areas, for example. Cameroon and
Two factors of particular importance for the extent and
prevalence of African agriculture are the precipitation
variations and the occurrence of the tsetse fly. For large
parts of the continent, the agricultural year is divided
into marked dry and rainy periods. With the exception of the
rainforest area, however, the amount of rainfall varies
widely from rainy season to rainy season, which affects both
agricultural potential and yield. The relatively wide spread
of the tsetse fly has also affected the settlement pattern
and the opportunities to keep livestock.
To a large extent, African agriculture is dominated by
small units - about 80% of those employed in agriculture are
active in this part of the agricultural sector. In terms of
area and production, however, small farms account for
smaller parts - about 60% of agricultural land and about 40%
of production. On the small units, agriculture is often
conducted under relatively extensive forms, and burning is
still common in many places. However, with increased
pressure on available land resources, agriculture is
intensifying. Initially, the soil near the settlement is
often intensively cultivated using both compost soil and
natural manure, while farther away fields are used more
extensively. However, with increasing population pressure,
the intensively cultivated area is widened, and intensive,
permanent agriculture is conducted in the most densely
Cultivation patterns and crop combinations vary widely,
but there are some basic features. To a large extent, the
cultivation of food and sales crops is combined within the
small units. This allows a certain degree of protection
against price variations for the sales crops and against the
growth of food crops. In addition, ecologically adapted
cultivation systems have been developed to preserve the
soil's nutrient content and protect it from the risk of
erosion. This is expressed, among other things. in that
different crops are combined on one and the same cultivation
lot (so-called intercropping).
Capital investment in agriculture is often limited.
Commercial fertilizers and chemical pesticides are only used
sparingly in small farms. The main tools are the chop and
pangan, a kind of machete knife. Tractors are rare in the
smallholder sector as well as draft animals, although the
latter have increased significantly in some areas in recent
decades. The need for manpower to clear new land and to hack
up the cultivation lots is therefore very great. In many
areas, labor shortages are one of the most important
limiting factors when it comes to developing small-scale
Livestock farming often plays a major role in African
agriculture, especially in areas that are less suitable for
intensive agriculture. About 40% of the world's livestock
population is found in Africa. In total, livestock keepers'
share of the population is 5%. In some countries it accounts
for more than 50%, in e.g. Sudan, Mauritania and Chad.
During the colonial period, export-oriented, large-scale
agriculture was introduced in certain areas. For some crops
- e.g. tea, coffee and sisal - production is often carried
out on plantations, which in many cases are owned by
transnational companies. Production in large-scale
agriculture is conducted using intensive farming methods.
The degree of mechanization is often high, as is the use of
commercial fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
Africa's most important export crops (share of world
production, 2008, in brackets) are sugar (5%), peanuts
(17%), cotton (6%), coffee (11%), cocoa (67%), tobacco (8%),
tea (12%) and palm oil (6%). Also important are sisal in
East Africa, citrus fruits in northern and southern Africa,
rubber in Liberia and Nigeria as well as wine in North
Africa and South Africa.
Drought has been a regular problem for African
agriculture. In recent decades, however, the effects of
missing rain appear to have worsened. To a large extent,
this is considered to be due to increased land exploitation
in more marginal areas - eg in the so-called Sahel zone
along the southern border of the Sahara desert. Another
serious problem for Africa is that since the early 1970s,
food production has not kept pace with population growth.
For most African states, development policy has focused on
building industry and promoting export-oriented agriculture.
Among other things, For example, this has been reflected in
the fact that prices for locally produced food have been set
relatively low and that agriculture has, in relative terms,
been disadvantaged in terms of aid and investment in
Forestry and fishing
About 20% of Africa's area is wooded. However, the direct
economic importance of forestry is relatively limited. Only
about 6% of the forest being harvested is used industrially;
the remainder is used for burning in agriculture, for the
production of charcoal or as fuel in households. Some
exports of hardwood - mahogany and teak - occur mainly from
West Africa. Important producer countries are Ivory Coast,
Ghana, Nigeria and Gabon, according to
Although Africa has a long coastline and several large
rivers and lakes, fishing plays a relatively small economic
role. The largest fishing nations are South Africa, Angola,
Morocco and Senegal. However, significant catches are made
in extensive sea fishing off Africa's western and southern
coasts of fishing fleets from, for example. Japan and
Africa is rich in valuable minerals (compare the section
Natural Resources), which explains the colonial powers'
great interest in the area.
Africa accounts for 55% of the world's production of
diamonds (2007). Of Africa's production, Botswana accounts
for 36%, Congo (Kinshasa) for 29% and South Africa for 17%.
Jewelry diamonds are mainly mined in South Africa, Congo
(Kinshasa), Congo (Brazzaville), Angola and Liberia,
industrial diamonds mainly in South Africa and Mali. Of
Africa's gold production - 20% of the world (2007) - South
Africa accounts for 53%. Other producers of some importance
are Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Congo (Kinshasa).
Africa also produces significant amounts of certain
strategic minerals - chromium (50% of world production),
cobalt (49%), manganese (33%), uranium (17%) and bauxite
(15%). With the exception of cobalt and bauxite, South
Africa also dominates here. Guinea accounts for 90% of
Africa's bauxite production and Congo (Kinshasa) accounts
for 70% of cobalt production. Of the world's copper
production (2007), 5% comes from Africa. Most of the mining
takes place in the so-called copper belt, which runs from
Zambia into the Shaba province in Congo (Kinshasa). Zambia
accounts for 61%, Congo (Kinshasa) for 17% and South Africa
for 14% of Africa's production.
Africa produces only 12% of the world's oil, but for
individual countries oil production is very important.
Nigeria, Libya, Angola and Algeria account for 22, 18, 18
and 17% of production respectively.
In addition to the aforementioned mineral, Africa (2007)
accounts for 3% of world iron ore production. South Africa
and Mauritania account for the majority - 72% and 20%
Most of the minerals extracted in Africa are exported as
pure raw materials. This is largely reflected in the general
features of Africa's trade patterns, which are largely
characterized by exports of unprocessed raw materials from
agriculture and mineral production, as well as imports of
industrial products, semi-finished products and consumer
Africa has a lower energy consumption per inhabitant than
any other continent. In 2008, Africa accounted for 6% of the
world's energy production, but only for 3% of consumption.
South Africa and Algeria have the highest energy consumption
per capita. In 2008, oil accounted for 38% of energy demand,
coal for 31%, natural gas for 24% water for 6% and nuclear
energy for less than 1%. Corresponding figures for the EU
are 41%, 17%, 26%, 4% and 12%.
In Africa, however, there are the largest unused water
energy resources in the world. Estimates from the mid-00s
show that Africa has over 25% of the world's water energy
reserves, but in 2008 it accounted for only 3% of world
production. The largest ponds for irrigation and energy
production are: the Assuan Dam in Egypt, Cabora Bassa in
Mozambique, the Caribbean Dam in Zambia/Zimbabwe, the
Kainji Dam in Nigeria and the Akosombo Dam in Ghana.
However, for the African in common, as for most of the
Third World, the most important source of energy is
firewood. Firewood accounts for over 90% of the energy
supply in Africa. This results in severe pressure on forest
resources, which in turn can lead to increased erosion and
changes in the local climate.
The fact that Africa's industrialization got off to a
much later start than the corresponding process in Asia and
Latin America can be explained by the policies of the
colonial powers. In essence, the colonies were given the
role of commodity producers to the colonial powers
industries, which could then export industrial products back
to the colonies. The independence of the colonies was a
turning point, and most countries tried to achieve rapid
industrialization to reshape their agricultural-based
economies. With a weak domestic industrial tradition, this
often meant that, through favorable terms, they sought to
attract foreign capital, which still plays an important role
for Africa's industry. The goal was to build up a domestic
production of such goods that were previously imported,
so-called import substitution.
This led to an investment in light industry. Production
in the light industry has largely focused on consumer goods
that only a minority of residents could buy. The market has
therefore been very limited, and production has often had to
be protected from competition through high tariffs. The
limited build-up of heavy industry has also led to an import
dependence on machinery equipment, raw materials and
semi-finished products for production. This, in turn, has
further strained already weak state budgets and led to
increased debt burdens for many countries. Problems with
foreign currency for import of inputs often lead to
operational disruptions with the consequent lack of consumer
The regional variations in the degree of
industrialization are large. Countries with a relatively
high degree of industrialization are found in North Africa,
in southern Africa and partly among the coastal countries in