The development of most African cities, according to several historical accounts is said to have taken place on the back of the effort of traders who travelled far and wide across the continent to buy and sell, distribute and exchange their goods and services, and migrate to cities where business activities are more friendly to indulge in. Food trade is one of such popular trading ventures common to African traders over the years. The demand for food has continued to increase side by side with the continent's population growth. Food crops grown widely across agriculturally agile city centers and countries with agriculture as its top revenue earner, would have to step up and expand their production capabilities to satisfy teeming local demand. Some of these crops also have to be exported to generate foreign earnings and open up opportunities for series of trade agreements between partner countries.

This article focuses on crops (food or cash) that are being grown and exported widely across food baskets in most African nation states. 

Cereals and Grains
Africa produces all the principal grains ranging from corn, wheat, and rice. Corn has the widest distribution, being grown in virtually all ecological zones. Highest yields per acre have been recorded in Egypt and on the Indian Ocean islands of Réunion and Mauritius, and areas where production is under irrigation. Millet and sorghum are also produced but principally in the savanna regions of the continent. Rice production and consumption have become increasingly important and are closely associated with areas of rapid urbanization. The most important rice-producing countries are Egypt, Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Madagascar.

Legumes and fodders
Protein-rich legumes are produced widely, and usually sown together with other crops. They include velvet beans, cowpeas, soybeans, and lablab (hyacinth beans). In North Africa broad beans and vetches are also produced. Peanuts (groundnuts) are grown widely in western Africa, both for domestic consumption and for export.

Tubers and Root Crops
Potatoes are cultivated in the higher elevations of such countries as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Madagascar, as well as in areas of Mediterranean climates in North and South Africa. Sweet potatoes have a more tropical and subtropical distribution, while the plantain is grown extensively in the tropical forest zones.

  • Fruits and Vegetables
These include fruits like bananas, pineapples, dates, figs, olives, and citrus and principal vegetables such as tomatoes and onions.
The banana is well distributed throughout tropical Africa, but it is intensively cultivated as an irrigated enterprise in Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, and Madagascar. Also widely cultivated is the pineapple, which is produced as a cash crop in Côte d’Ivoire, the Congo basin, Kenya, and South Africa.
The principal orange-growing regions are the southern coast of South Africa and the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, as well as Ghana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Madagascar. The largest yields are produced in countries where basin irrigation is practiced. South Africa is the largest producer of grapefruit, followed by Sudan.

Tomatoes and onions are grown widely, but the largest-producing areas border the Mediterranean. Large vegetables, such as cabbages and cauliflowers, are grown in the same region, from where it is possible to export some quantities to southern Europe. Important vegetables of tropical Africa include peppers, okra, eggplants, cucumbers, and watermelons.

  • Beverage Crops
Tea, coffee, cocoa, and grapes are all grown in Africa. Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique are the largest producers of tea, while Ethiopia, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Madagascar are the major producers of coffee. Cocoa is essentially a tropical forest crop. Its cultivation is concentrated in western Africa, with the principal producers being Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. All these crops are largely grown for export.

  • Fibres
Large areas of Africa raise cotton for textile manufacture. The principal producing countries include Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Mali. Sisal production is also important, especially in the eastern African countries of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Madagascar, as well as in Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa. Some countries, notably Nigeria, promote the cultivation of kenaf (one of the bast fibres).

  • Other Cash Crops
Oil palm and palm kernels, are grown widely in the tropical forest zones. There are large plantations in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Coconuts are important in the Comoros, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Kola nuts are grown principally in the forested regions of Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The cashew tree is grown to a limited extent in East Africa and to a lesser extent in the coastal countries of western Africa. Rubber is produced principally in Nigeria and Liberia. Tobacco is widely cultivated as an export crop in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Nigeria, and South Africa. Sugarcane is also widely grown but largely for domestic consumption. Major producers include South Africa, Egypt, Mauritius, and Sudan.

At Power of Africa, we believe that adequate investments in agriculture involving both public and private sector interventions will create jobs, guarantee food security for Africa's growing population and have a multiplier effect on the continent's trade volume in the global commodity market.