Africa can feed itself but lacks political will to place food first
- Despite massive aid from across the world, including Kenya’s ‘Kenyans for Kenya’, famine is still delicate
Even as a UN report warned of a looming food crisis in the Horn of Africa due to expected dry spell in the coming months, it emerged that Africa has the capacity to become self-sufficient in food and even become a net exporter.
But African governments lack political will to put food security top in the agenda.
According to the Horn of Africa Crisis Situation Report, a new food analysis of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification in Djibouti indicates that the situation has deteriorated from “stressed” to “crisis”.
In Ethiopia, drought conditions are expected to worsen in the northern parts of Afar and parts of northern Somalia despite the short rains the region received between October and December.
“On the other hand, drought conditions in the northern, north-eastern and southern parts of Kenya have significantly eased following good rainfall received in the October-December short rains season,” says the report.
Other issues contributors to food scarcity include lack or skewed distribution and the armed conflicts in the continent.
A recent meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to celebrate the first anniversary of the African Food and Nutrition Security Day revealed that Africa has the potential to feed itself but the continent still suffers from widespread malnutrition while spending millions of US dollars annually to import food.
The main concern is that Africa, after 50 years after independence, and being endowed with land and water resources, is still suffering from food insecurity and perpetually rely on food aid. The continent spends about $50 billion annually to import food from the global market.
In July, certain regions of the countries in the Horn of Africa, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, experienced dire food shortages due to a combination of the most severe drought in the region in 40 years and conflict Somalia.
Over 13 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 700,000 Somali refugees in Kenya and nearly 1.5 million displaced people inside Somalia. The famine affected virtually the entire northern Kenya, especially Turkana.
Despite massive humanitarian response from across the world, including Kenya’s initiative dubbed “Kenyans for Kenya”, the situation is still delicate, even as attention has shifted to other issues.
In Kenya for instance, the problem was not lack of food, but lack of proper distribution mechanism by the government to move food from areas with abundant harvests to those with food-scarcity.
The African Food and Nutrition Security Day was launched in Lilongwe, Malawi in October 2010. Malawi is one of the few African countries that have achieved food-security status.
Working under the theme, “Investing in Inter-Africa Trade”, the challenge facing African countries is the struggle for individual countries to meet food security rather than use the regional economic blocs to move food from food sufficient countries to food-deficient ones.
Despite its potential, Africa produces one third of what is produced by the developed countries, and the continent spends about $50 billion (Sh5 trillion) annually to import from the global market.
Challenges facing Africa’s food production and security include population growth, climate change, armed conflicts, and new demands to meet the global market requirements.
According to Dr Papa Abdoulaye Seek, the Director General of the Africa Rice Centre, the continent has the capacity to become self-sufficient in rice production and become a net exporter.
“Unlike Asia and Europe, where the availability of potential land and water for agriculture is declining, Africa still has a large reservoir of underutilised agricultural land and water resources,” he said.
Dr Elisabeth Atangana, the President of Pan African Farmers Organisation, attributed this to two major factors. The first is the lack of political will. She lamented that since the Maputo Declaration that every African country allocate 10 per cent of the GDP to agriculture, very few countries have met the commitment.
The second factor is access to market, especially for those countries with food surpluses. As Dr Atangana put it, “if I produce and I don’t sell, it does not encourage me to produce more. We need stability in food prices and free movement of goods between countries,” she said.
The African Union (AU) has committed itself to ensuring food security in the next five years, because food security goes a long way in reducing poverty.
The Chairman of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, lamented that hunger leads to the reduction of about six per cent of GDP across the continent, and that a large population in Africa is not accessing optimum diet.
The upshot is that the continent must develop political will, increase investment in agriculture, especially among women who do the bulk of the work in the agricultural sector.
The continent’s new found resolve to tackle the food scarcity problem coincided with the world population hitting 7 billion. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the population in sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to hit between 1.5 to 2 billion by 2050.
FAO estimates global food production must increase by 70 per cent in order to feed the world population by 2050. Africa is the second most populated continent after Asia, with 1 billion people, or 15 per cent of the world population.
According to Dr Josue Dione, the Director, Food Security and Sustainable Development Division of the UN, Africa has all the potential to feed itself.
“There should be emphasis on regional co-operation so we have stable supply, ” he said.
The first anniversary celebrations came at a time when the continent, especially the Horn of Africa, is suffering from drought-related famine. It also came at a time when the continent is grappling with “land grab” where multinationals and foreign governments are acquiring large trucks of land in Africa to grow food for export.
Dr Ferima Coulibaly-Zerbo, Senior Nutritional Officer for West Africa, WHO, emphasised the need for linkages between food security and the health sector. She argued that Africa is facing a burden of diseases, with a negative impact on food production.
“In many cases when we talk about food security, we hardly consider health as part of it. Women who do the bulk of the work in agriculture normally fall ill during production. The vicious circle is that an ill person needs more nutrients, which in most cases are never available leading to high mortality among women,” she said.
The conference noted that African leadership have so far grasped the importance of food security as a concept, but it is yet to trickle to the ground, one year since the first celebration in Lilongwe, Malawi in October 2010.