STATE OF FOOD SECURITY IN AFRICA: Govts need to rise beyond political rhetoric to support farmers become regionally and internationally competitive
By Sbhekisipho Fayayo, Director African Food Revolution
There has been progress in reducing hunger and poverty, as well as improving food and nutrition security, on a global scale. However, people continue to suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and other forms of over-nourishment, according to a background paper prepared by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), AUC, FAO, AUDA-NEPAD, WFP, UNICEF, IFAD, AfDB, Akademiya2063, RUFORUM titled “Regional Dialogue: African Food Systems Seventh Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.”
The paper was presented last year in Brazzaville, Congo.
While progress has been made in the fight against hunger, the paper asserts that millions of people continue to suffer from hunger, with a large proportion of them suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and other forms of over-nourishment.
“There remain some 795 million people suffering from hunger, with two billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies and/or other forms of over-nourishment. From the African region, progress against hunger had been made but lost between the 2014-2018 period. This slag in further addressing hunger and nutritional challenges has meant that some 256 million people in the continent remain hungry, representing an increase of some 44 million people from the 2014 period”
According to the study, there is a disproportionate distribution of the continent’s undernourished population, with 17 million of the 256 million coming from North Africa and 239 million from Sub-Saharan Africa. “This regional outlook in part also masks in-country and in-region differences across the continent. For example, in Eastern Africa, Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan had more than half the population of the food insecure in 2019. Countries in particular; Burundi and Somalia are projected to undergo essentially no change in the share of the population that is food insecure by 2029. “All these affected countries are part of the food insecurity flashpoint countries assessed in 2017 as dependent on food aid and of the 37 countries assessed as dependent on food aid, 28 of them were from Africa. These disturbing patterns across the continent have raised concerns among the African leaders for increased commitment to reverse the situation.”
Food insecurity and undernourishment have gender patterns, as women are more prone to food instability, as well as economic and environmental shocks.
“Women are disproportionately vulnerable to food insecurity as well as economic and environmental shocks. For example, the prevalence of anaemia is highest in women in Africa at 36 per cent. Furthermore, harmful social norms and stereotypes on what women can or should do persist in many parts of the world, but these are difficult to address through conventional interventions.”
Food taboos that are detrimental to women’s health and nutrition are still prevalent in many countries. Overall, the persisting food insecurity challenge in the sub-Saharan Africa region presents a real challenge towards achieving the zero hunger for all as expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals in particular, ending all forms of malnutrition.
Trade flows, on the other hand, provide an interim opportunity to address emerging domestic food demand patterns, particularly food deficits, according to research. The increased flows in intracontinental exports in food goods is particularly significant in addressing continental food gaps in the areas experiencing severe shortfalls. With this pattern of informal trade already in place, the research suggests that it will be easier to accelerate the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which has revealed the continent’s potential.
“This is a short-term measure to addressing Africa’s food security needs partly because the intracontinental flows continue to reveal an increase in the export shares of the emerging cash products and processed food products while the shares of more traditional export products are contracting. The rising flows in intracontinental exports in food products is particularly important in closing continental food gaps in the areas experiencing astute deficits. Further, this intracontinental trade in agricultural products is larger than the official data showing that there is, for example, informal cross-border trade in staple food accounts for 30% of the total trade in West Africa.”
“With this pattern of informal trade already happening, it provides an impetus for accelerating the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that has revealed the potential that exists within the continent. What is clear now is that at the local level, the ordinary people are moving faster than the pace at which the politicians and decision leaders. Accelerating the AfCFTA has indeed the potential to fortify the continent’s resilience towards food security.”
The paper proffers more than “enough” examples to provide adequate lamentations about the African food security challenge but, there are also illustrations of good practices that the continent could capitalize on as well as those that need to be harnessed to strengthen the continent’s ability to provide and cushion its citizenry from constant abyss of food insecurity. “Africa on average imports about 40% of its food under unfair terms of trade that have eliminated tariff protection at frontiers. Accordingly, African countries have neither a regional nor a continental market that is stable, and which, as a consequence, persistently keeps smallholder farmers in the continent in perpetual ‘farming poverty’. In this regard, achieving intra-continental food security will begin by correcting these imbalances within the continent and this could be the first and significant achievement that AfCFTA could deliver.”
This could provide some protection for locally grown food crops, as well as help develop and expand intra-Africa regional markets. Second, African governments must rise to the challenge of radically assisting local farmers in overcoming challenges and vagaries in agriculture in order to become regionally and internationally competitive, beyond the political rhetoric of good laws and policies. One vexing issue is for the use of subsidies in farming. “While European and/or an American farmer do receive subsidies, it is deemed a terrible practice if it is to be applied to African farmers. Regardless of the arguments advanced against pursuing this course of action, it is the Africans and African Union’s responsibility to take leadership for a change of action. There’s the common African saying, ‘your neighbor will not fill your granary’; thus, addressing persistent food insecurity will have to be an Intra-Africa issue, and solutions should be found within the continent.”
The empowerment of women and the removal of gender-based constraints are also essential for food and nutrition security and resilience of African food systems. When rural women have better access to resources, services, economic opportunities and decision making have more food, their nutrition status improves, rural incomes increase and food systems become more efficient and sustainable.
“An AfDB study estimated quantitatively that closing the gender productivity gap would yield production gains of 2.8 per cent in Nigeria, 8.1 per cent in Tanzania, and 10.3 per cent in Uganda.
“To promote nutrition-delivering food systems, investments must go beyond traditional main crops and focus on other crops that are nutritionally important in the food systems, often managed by women, including vegetables, grain legumes and climate resilient crops such as sorghums and millets, which for a long time have suffered massive under investments,” concludes the paper.