New drive to end hunger in Africa by 2025
AFRICA is experiencing strong and sustained economic growth, rising incomes and significant improvements in life expectancy and education, writes Teresa Pinto.
One-third of countries on the continent have GDP (gross domestic product) growth rates of more than six per cent, according to the African Development Bank.
But sub-Saharan Africa remains the world`s most food-insecure region, with a quarter of its 925 million population trapped in a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. Twenty-eight countries in the region require external assistance for food.
Sub-Saharan Africa has huge agricultural potential. But it has been a net importer of food for the past three decades. Now with accelerated demographic growth, many leaders of countries in the region are putting agriculture back on top of their agendas to reduce dependence on food imports.
The African Union has declared 2014 the year of Agriculture and Food Security, with the ambitious goals of not only producing enough food for the population but of becoming a net exporter of food. It has also pledged to end hunger in Africa by 2025.
Affordability poses greater challenges than availability to food security in most sub- Saharan African countries, according to the 2013 Global Food Security Index.
Another factor vital for food security is access, which in sub-Saharan Africa is often hampered by armed conflicts, lack of infrastructure, high transportation costs, under-developed markets, and trade barriers and restrictions.
Inadequate storage poses another problem. It results in many countries in Africa losing up to 40 per cent of their produce after harvest, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Unstable markets also affect food security because production losses make producers vulnerable and prevent them from generating surpluses.
Agriculture and agribusiness in Africa could be worth US$1 trillion by 2030, boosted by foreign direct investment, which is expected to grow from less than US$10 billion in 2010 to US$45 billion in 2020, according to World Bank data.
Sub-Saharan Africa has 183 million hectares of under-cultivated land and approximately 452 million hectares of additional suitable land which is not being cultivated, according to the 2013 African Agriculture Status Report.
Some countries have made remarkable improvements in food security. Agricultural GDP growth in countries such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia has exceeded the six per cent target set by the African Union in 2003.
Ethiopia and Botswana have had the greatest gains in the last decade. Almost half a million people died during Ethiopia`s ‘great famine’ 30 years ago. Now, per capita incomes are on the rise.
In contrast, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and Central Africa remain the most food insecure regions in sub-Saharan Africa because of natural factors such as severe droughts, floods, locust infestations and epidemics combined with conflicts and violence in a number of countries, including Mali, northern Nigeria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which have forced millions to displace.
More than 20 million people are at risk of food insecurity in the semi-arid Sahel region, according to the World Food Programme.
The population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double in the coming years, reaching two billion people by 2050. If current agricultural productivity levels persist, the continent would only be able to produce 13 per cent of its food demand by that time.
A scenario of widespread food insecurity could be critical for large parts of the population, potentially leading to further deterioration in life expectancy, educational attainment and income, and giving organised crime and terrorism opportunities to flourish.
But if the initiative by the African Union to boost agricultural production on the continent is successful, it could fulfill internal food demand and allow Africa to become a net exporter of food.
Agriculture was once a neglected sector for national leaders and a lost cause for donors. It is now becoming a top priority for governments, with sub-Saharan countries having the potential to become attractive destinations for foreign investors.