Food Security in Africa: “the continent of plenty”

According to Fiber Optic Association (FOA), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the number of undernourished people in the world has increased from 777 million in 2015 to an estimated 815 million in 2016.
It appears that Global hunger is on the rise affecting 11% of the global population. Bukar Tijani the FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa highlighted that, the number of undernourished people rose from 200 to 224 million, accounting for 25 percent of the 815 million people undernourished in the world in 2016.
Africa has about 233 million people that live in hunger. The 233 million of people constitutes about 20% of the African population. The food crisis is strongly visible especially in the sub- Saharan African countries. In comparative context the number of people living in hunger in Africa is far greater than the number of people in Asia. The FOA figures of 2016, indicates that the number of people living in hunger, is greater in Africa with about 33% compared to Asia with 16% people living in hunger.
Food security refers to the ability of individuals to obtain sufficient food on a day-to-day basis. It is internationally accepted that food security refers to ability of people to secure adequate food. Food security is usually framed in four dimensions: food availability, access to food, food utilization and use, and food stability. It is also important to highlight that food availability indicates the country’s food capability and that it is not necessarily accessible to everyone.
Africa has the potential to be the food basket of the world but heading for a disaster with dated agricultural methods and practices worsening food insecurity situation. African countries have been experiencing a number of episodes of severe food insecurity causing an immense loss of life over the years. The projection is that Africa’s food security will grow worse during 2018 and will cause high levels of food insecurity with a loss of life. This is thus in contrast with Africa’s ability and potential to secure and producing and exporting enough food.
There are several factors contributing to food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. Poverty and shortage of food are the core facilitators of food insecurity. Poverty constrains the ability of farming households to invest in productive assets and agricultural technologies, resulting in insufficient agricultural productivity. Internal violent conflicts can also have a significant impact on the food security status of a country. Internal violent conflicts can obstruct all efforts to establish food and nutrition security and this is common in central and East Africa. Violent conflicts, as well as ethnic unrest involving fights over resources and the stealing livestock contributed to the displacement of people, disruption of transportation and market transactions and subsequently, lack of access to food. The other cause of food insecurity are natural hazards (such as soil erosion, droughts and floods), price and inflation increase, the shortage of agricultural lands with fertile soil, low investments and support to the agricultural sector and a great reliance on purchased food along with high dependence of wages.
South Africa is perceived as a food secure country producing enough basic foods and has the capacity to import enough food needed for the basic nutritional requirements. According to StatSA, regardless of whether South Africa is seen as a food secure country it is argued that food insecurity is more persuasive in rural areas and more than 14 million people, or about 35 % of the population in the country is estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity. This is because majority of poor people are found in rural areas with roughly 75% which makes about 10.5 million people of those who are chronically poor.
The question is, what can be done to address the challenge of food insecurity? Governments can commit to increasing public spending on agriculture through investment. This is possible with a positive and resilient policy environment for the agricultural sector. Coherent policies at all levels that stimulate behaviour change, align all actors, provide secure rights to land and other resources, and incentivize solutions for sustainable intensification of agriculture and food systems that take advantage of rapid advances in science and technology. The president of South Africa recommended amendments of the constitution to promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security. According to the president of South Africa this should include supporting farmers with tools, tractors, fertilisers, seeds, extension services, finance and access to key infrastructure.
Governments, especially the south African government must be careful not to use land for housing purposes. By doing so we will be placing an extra burden on food security. This will be a fine balancing act between using land for agricultural purposes and for housing. Governments must also facilitate market access in by removing barriers of trading.
The role of genetically modified (GM) crops for food security is the subject of public controversy. GM crops could contribute to food production increases and higher food availability. However, we need to pay attention to the fact GMO is not a quick solution, but it is a plan.
Education must go beyond the level of reading and writing to that of transfer of knowledge tackling developmental issues and ways of securing food. The curriculum should focus on research and development of the agricultural sector whereby education will be, perceived as an intervention to food security. This is the time when new innovations are introduced in the agricultural sector.
BRICS is investing a lot into the Agricultural sector as it is a major contributor factor to economic growth, poverty and hunger reduction. These Five countries of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China & South Africa) accounts for more than one third of global cereal production which plays a significant role of securing food. As the world’s important bases of agricultural production, BRICS countries own 1/3 of the world’s farmland which makes these five countries critical of guaranteeing world food security. In 2013, India, China and Brazil have turned out to be the most important source of finance, technology and infrastructure for African agriculture with the intentions of improving the agricultural sector. Private enterprises and state-owned companies from these three emerging countries have started to invest in the agricultural sector in many African countries, ranging from agricultural inputs and irrigation services to farming, food processing and distribution. The contribution of BRICS to the agricultural sector should be an eye opener to both the public and private sectors.
Majority of the leading companies must be on the forefront of helping solve the global food security crisis along with the Public sectors. Promoting private-public sector platforms with a focus on improving the supply response by the private sector, in coordination with other international financial institutions, there is no doubt that this will strengthen public-private policy dialogue in several countries, with strong emphasis on food security.
Peter Monyelo is a Social Science researcher at the North-West University, Potchefstroom