Towards Sustainable Food Security
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Despite abundant agricultural resources and a potential for development, sub-Saharan Africa is still one of the regions most affected by hunger. As noted in a report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), entitled “Towards Sustainable Food Security”1, this situation is the result of a combination of many factors: local production imbalances, difficult physical and economic access to food, erratic climatic conditions, agricultural price volatility, conflicts or poor policy choices, and in addition, states and international institutions who have long neglected or even hindered the development of agriculture in these countries. We recommend reading this report, of which we have published an excerpt below, because it has the merit of reminding us that agriculture is an engine for growth and economic and social development for this continent and that only a proactive and comprehensive approach will improve sustainable food security.
Momagri Editorial Board
For too long the face of sub-Saharan Africa has been one of dehumanizing hunger. More than one in four Africans is undernourished, and food insecurity—the inability to consistently acquire enough calories and nutrients for a healthy and productive life—is pervasive. The spectre of famine, which has virtually disappeared elsewhere in the world, continues to haunt parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Famines grab headlines, but chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are more insidious, often silent, daily calamities for millions of Africans.
Yet sub-Saharan Africa has ample agricultural land, plenty of water and a generally favourable climate for growing food. And in the last 10 years many African countries posted world-beating economic growth rates and became among the fastest movers on the Human Development Index. With these endowments and important economic and social achievements, why is the region still food insecure? […]
Sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and better nutrition are the drivers of food-secure growth and human development. The argument is straightforward: more productive agriculture will build food security by increasing food availability and lowering food prices, thus improving access. Higher productivity can also raise the incomes of millions of smallholder farmers, elevating living standards and improving health and education, thus expanding people’s capabilities. Through science, technology and the diffusion of innovation greater agricultural productivity can also enable better stewardship of the environment. Sound nutrition links food security to human development. Wellnourished people exercise their freedoms and capabilities in different domains—the essence of human development—and, completing the cycle, will be inclined to demand food security from their leaders.
The human development approach focuses on entitlements and capabilities. Food security should thus be leveraged by empowering people to make their own choices and by building resilience in the face of shocks. That means preserving people’s food entitlements—the income, market structures, institutional rules and governance that enable the poor to buy and trade food in fair markets. It also means reinforcing essential human capabilities in health and education. Focusing policies on these four areas—agricultural productivity, nutrition, resilience and empowerment—can unleash a dynamic virtuous cycle of food security and human development. […]
Sub-Saharan Africa has abundant agricultural resources. But shamefully, in all corners of the region, millions of people remain hungry and malnourished—the result of glaringly uneven local food production and distribution and chronically deficient diets, especially among the poorest. This is a daily violation of people’s dignity, with many governments not fulfilling their basic responsibility of protecting their citizens from hunger.
The chain of food security that runs from availability through access to use comes under constant stress in a region vulnerable to the impacts of erratic weather, volatile food prices, and conflict and violence. Agricultural productivity remains low—much lower than in other regions. Many sub-Saharan African countries are net food importers and even depend on food aid during all-too-frequent humanitarian crises. Where food is available, millions cannot afford it or are prevented from buying or trading it by underdeveloped markets, poor roads, long distances to markets and high transport costs. […]
Misguided policies, weak institutions and failing markets are the deeper causes of sub-Saharan Africa’s food insecurity. This tainted inheritance is most evident in households and communities, where unequal power relations trap vulnerable groups—subsistence farmers, the landless poor, many women and children—in a vicious cycle of deprivation, food insecurity and low human development.
For decades the policies of national governments and international institutions neglected sub-Saharan Africa’s rural and agricultural development in favour of urban populations. Their damaging legacies include ineffective postcolonial industrialization plans that exhausted development resources, leaving agriculture behind. Structural adjustment programmes aimed to close budget gaps but instead created large human development deficits, especially among the vulnerable poor, and skewed allocations of national revenue and foreign aid that overlooked agriculture and nutrition.
Despite some improvements since the mid-1990s, many African governments continue to burden domestic agriculture with high, arbitrary taxes while bestowing subsidies, incentives and macroeconomic support on other sectors. […]
Breaking with the past, standing up to the vested interests of the privileged few and building institutions that rebalance power relations at all levels of society will require courageous citizens and dedicated leaders. Taking these steps is all the more pressing as new threats to the sustainability of sub-Saharan Africa’s food systems have emerged. Demographic change, environmental pressure, and global and local climate change are profoundly reconfiguring the region’s development options.