African Economy





Although Africa is a continent that is rich in resources and raw materials, a large part of its population lives in poverty. In the last few decades, the standard of living has improved but income is still very low. In addition, Africa relies heavily on farming products and minerals as a source of income.



Farming is the most important economic activity and way of earning money for the people of Africa. Almost 70% of its population work in agriculture.
Most of the continent’s population depends on staple crops, food that people need themselves and base their diet on. These include corn, sorghum, rice and wheat as well as potatoes fruits and vegetables.  Cash crops are grown on large plantations and exported to other countries. They include cocoa, bananas and coffee.

In many African countries, food production cannot keep up with the increasing population. This leads to chronic food shortages. Some African countries have turned from food exporters in the last century to food importers today. However, most of them do not have the money and capital to import food from abroad. In addition, climate change and widespread droughts lead to hunger and starvation in many parts of Africa.

Livestock is raised in all parts of Africa. Sheep, goats, camels, pigs and other animals are kept for food, skin and as working and transportation animals.

farmer in Kenya

Farmer in Kenya - Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).



Africa is rich with minerals and raw materials. The continent has large deposits of copper, gold, phosphates, platinum and minerals. The mining industry focuses on the countries south of the equator. Diamonds, gold and coal are produced in South Africa, which has the most advanced mining industry. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil-producing country.  Bauxite and phosphates are mined in Morocco.
While Africa does have many resources, they do not control the world markets. Most countries do not process raw materials but export them to developed countries.  The fight over raw materials has also led to conflicts and wars in Africa. Selling diamonds illegally, for example, helped to finance a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.



Industry is a young sector of the African economy. Most industries were set up after the countries got their independence from Europe. During the colonial period they got their finished products from Europe, often at a high price.  Many nations still have developing industrial sectors. While foreigners own many companies, the number of young African businessmen opening up firms has increased steadily.



Tourism is a leading source of income in at least some African countries. Millions of people from around the globe visit the historic sites of ancient Egypt. Others travel to the mountains of eastern Africa or go on a safari in one of the game reserves in Kenya or Tanzania. Conflicts, wars and uprisings during the Arab Spring kept tourists away from Egypt and northern Africa.

Transportation is poorly developed in many African countries. Only the middle and upper classes own cars. Many Africans go on foot or use buses and bikes as a method of transportation. Air transport is well developed in places that attract tourists, like Egypt and Kenya

Elephant crossing road in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Elephant crossing a road in Kruger National Park, South Africa



In the past decades, international trade has left out most of Africa. While many countries export their farming products and minerals, they must import the majority of industrial products, high-tech goods, as well as energy. The terms of trade - the balance between the value of exports and imports has tipped in favour of developed countries and against the developing countries in Africa. They have been declining for 40 years because Africa exports only raw materials and food and imports expensive products.


Foreign Aid

Of all continents, Africa gets the lion’s share of foreign aid. Usually it is money that the World Bank lends to African countries, but the West helps Africa with technical assistance in the form of advisors, doctors and teachers.
Foreign aid has helped Africa in the continent’s social and economic development. However, loans have left many countries with debts that they cannot pay back.


African countries by GDP

African countries by GDP (gross domestic product) in dollars per year


Africa - Exercises



Related Topics



  • abroad = from overseas
  • advanced = well-developed
  • advisor = someone who tells you how something works; they know a lot about a subject and can teach you
  • agriculture = farming
  • aid = help in the form of money, food, education etc...
  • although = while, even if
  • assistance = help
  • balance =  equal amounts
  • base = build, create
  • bauxite = soft material that is used to make aluminium
  • cash crops = food that is grown in order to be exported  and earn money
  • century = a hundred years
  • chronic = long-lasting
  • civil war = war in which two groups of people from the same country fight against each other
  • cocoa = powder made from beans and used to make chocolate
  • colonial period = time during which European countries governed areas that were far away
  • copper = soft reddish brown metal  that allows electricity to pass through easily;  it is used to make wires and water pipes
  • debt = money that a person or organization has to pay back to someone else
  • decade = ten years
  • decline = go down
  • depend on = need
  • deposit = layer of mineral that is in rocks
  • developed countries = industrialised or rich countries
  • developing = growing
  • developing countries = the poor countries in the world
  • development = growth, increase
  • diet = the kind of food that you eat every day
  • drought = long period of dry weather , in which there is not enough water for plants and animals
  • earn = to get money from the work that you do
  • economic = about buying and selling products
  • economy = system by which a country’s money and goods are produced
  • firm = company
  • game reserve = large area of land in which wild animals can live safely
  • GDP = gross domestic product = total value of all goods and services produced in a country in one year
  • globe = world
  • high-tech goods = the use of modern machines and computers  in industry
  • however = but
  • illegally = against the law; not allowed
  • improve = to get better
  • in addition = also
  • in favour of = for , to the advantage of
  • include = part of a larger group
  • income = money you get from jobs and work
  • increase = go up
  • independence = freedom
  • keep up with = to be as fast as something else
  • leading = number one
  • left out = gone by; not included
  • lend =to let someone borrow money from you
  • lion’s share = the largest part of
  • livestock = animals, such as cows, that are kept on a farm
  • loan = amount of money that you borrow form a bank
  • majority = most of
  • method = way
  • own = possess, have
  • phosphate = kind of salt that has phosphorus in it
  • platinum = silver-grey metal that does not change colour; used in industry and for making jewellery
  • poorly developed = not very advanced
  • poverty = the situation of being poor
  • process = to make a product out of a raw material, so that it is ready to be used
  • raise = to look after animals and feed them so that they can be used as food
  • raw materials = things that exist in nature and are used by people, like coal, wood, oil etc..
  • rely on = depend on, need
  • resources = something like useful land, minerals, oil etc... that a country has
  • set up = start
  • shortage = not have enough of
  • sorghum = plant that is grown in tropical areas and used as food for the people there
  • source of income = from where you get money
  • standard of living =how rich a person or a country is and what someone  can afford
  • staple crops = food that you need to live
  • starvation = hunger
  • steadily =slowly, little by little
  • tip = move , bend
  • value = what something is worth
  • well-developed = something that works very well
  • wheat = plant that is used to make white bread
  • widespread = here: in many places