Today when we go to the local markets and we cannot readily find plantain, cassava, tomatoes and other staple items and one has cause to wonder what is happening to our source of food in Africa. Even when it is available it is very expensive. At certain peak seasons in the year, some of these produce are in surplus and yet we continue to experience post-harvest losses, leading to reduced income for producers and less available food. Governmental and development practitioners are constantly organizing conferences, workshops and meetings on various aspects that pertain to agriculture and yet the impact is not sufficiently felt.

To the lay person, it seems that there is minimal progress made in the agriculture sector, especially in Africa where very few countries can boast of having a balanced diet costing a minimum of $1.00/day. According to FAO statistics, about 795 million people in the world still lack sufficient food for conducting an active and healthy life. It is expected that more than half of the projected global population growth between now and 2050 will occur in Africa – adding 1.3 billion people to the continent’s population.  Africa currently imports US$50 billion in food. So how can we face these challenges and yet capitalize on the huge opportunities and potentials that exist in Africa?

As I stated in my last article in December 2015, only 7 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have reached the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1C hunger target of halving the proportion of the chronically undernourished (Source: FAO Hunger Map 2015). So what has happened to the remaining 40 countries? A closer look will reveal that the slow progress can be attributed to natural and human induced disasters, or political instability which has in turn resulted in protracted crises with increased vulnerability and food insecurity among large segments of the population. While the Ebola crisis hit hard in 2015 and required rapid responses and adequate controls, we also cannot leave out the effect of climate change, resulting in extreme weather conditions, droughts, flooding etc, which is already having an impact in Africa. A case in point is El Niño with its devastating effects on the livelihoods of farmers and agro-pastoralists in Eastern and Southern Africa resulting in an increased risk of trans-boundary plant and animal pests and diseases.

Can there be a change in the tide of things?  Clearly we need a different approach and Africans will need to be in the driver’s seat of their own destinies.  Signals are visible: African Heads of State have committed to eradicating hunger by the year 2025. This calls for a fundamental shift in the continent’s agricultural and rural development, in line with the aspirations of Africa’s Agenda 2063, which emphasizes unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity. In effect there is overall political commitment to achieve these laudable goals.  Furthermore, International Organizations like Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) continue to pledge their support. Hence at the recent biennial 29th Africa Regional Conference held in Abidjan Cote D’Ivoire, 4-8 April 2016 , FAO  met with the continent’s agricultural leaders to deliberate on these thorny issues under the theme ”Transforming African Agri-food systems for inclusive growth and shared prosperity.” More than 300 people participated, including 51 African ministers and deputies of agriculture and related sectors from 49 countries, as well as technical experts and development specialists, representatives of regional organizations and institutions, members of civil society, and the private sector.

During the conference, the Director-General of FAO, Graziano da Silva stated that “Dependence on food imports should not be the rule. Africa has the potential to be not only self-sufficient but also to become a major food exporter to the rest of the world. To feed itself, Africa needs to build on its regional integration potential. Eradicating hunger by the year 2025 and achieving the SDGs by 2030 require targeted and innovative interventions, including food, health and sanitation assistance social protection, education and training and improved infrastructure – all with a special focus on the most vulnerable.  This will create the “virtuous cycle” of local development, leading to food security and improved nutrition”

Interestingly, through the pioneering effort of FAO, the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund (ASTF) has been mobilizing financial support to back up all these laudable intentions and acts as important catalytic instrument. I am proud to state that African countries are “now putting their money where their mouth is” and since 2013, contributions have reached USD 40 million, with Equatorial Guinea and Angola being the major financial contributors. Impressive results are being achieved through ASTF projects and so far, $34.5 million have been allocated to 15 regional programmes and national projects in 36 different countries, boosting efforts to eradicate hunger.

By 2050 an estimated 70% of the world’s population will be urban which implies that agricultural programmes will need to include strategies that target the urban poor which can contribute to their food security and nutrition and at the same time promote greener cities that are better able to cope with social and environmental challenges. In addition, if we save one fourth of the food currently lost or wasted, we can feed 870 million people. Both reducing food waste and improving urban agriculture have great potential in improving food security. There is hope, but it requires action and commitment from us all.

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