The population growth in sub-Saharan Africa is putting a strain on the region's food supply, scientists say.

According to a new study by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Wageningen University and various African institutions, the demand for cereal in the sub-Saharan African region will rise to at least 50 percent by 2050, and it would need to maximize yields in order to feed the growing population.

Africa's population is expected to grow 2.5 times by 2050, and in order to feed the entire population, the continent would need to start investing more in agriculture, Reuters reports.

The researchers surveyed 10 countries, which represent 54 percent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa and 58 percent of its arable land. They found that cereal yields in most of the countries surveyed are growing slower than population and demand, but the area planted has increased 14 percent in the last 10 years.

According to the report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the sub-Saharan African region currently imports about 20 percent of its cereal needs. Presently, cereal crops account for about half of the region's food and farmland.

But even if the yields continue to rise at the rate they have over the last quarter-century, the existing farmland in the region would still only produce between one-third and half of the grain needed by 2050, the researchers said.

Moreover, expanding the land area to grow crops would mean cutting down forests or encroaching on protected nature reserves, which could lead to loss of biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

To feed the growing population, the region would need to produce more food on the land already being planted. This would require investments that will boost crop yields, an increase in the number of crops grown on the same plot of land, and expansion of irrigation, the researchers said.

"To reach those goals is going to take very strategic, careful prioritization and adequate resources to do the job," Ken Cassman, professor emeritus at Nebraska and co-author of the study, said in a statement published by

"Having a strategic vision of what to invest in - to fund those things that can give greatest payoff - is critical. What this work does is allow for a much more surgical look at how to do that, which just wasn't possible before."