In this special briefing, AllAfrica is shining a spotlight on food security in Africa. Hunger affects more than one billion people worldwide, most of them in Africa. Population growth, urbanization, gender inequalities, climate change and access to markets are just some of the factors that affect Africa’s ability to produce food. But Africans, on their own and with the support of international organizations, are coming up with innovative ways to boost sustainable food production. Many say a Green Revolution is possible, with the right support. “Eighty percent of farmers in Africa are smallholder farmers. The majority of them are women,” says Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad). “They produce 80 percent of the food that is consumed by Africans. Obviously, if these are the people that produce the food that we eat we must invest in smallholder agriculture.”
Some 218 million people in Africa struggle with hunger daily – about 30 percent of the continent’s total population, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Most of those suffering from hunger are the rural poor, urban poor and victims of natural disasters.
Africa could have a better chance of feeding its people with improved governance, more effective agricultural policies, better training and other measures, the FAO says. Africa holds enormous potential for boosting the yield of food crops and other agricultural commodities, but continued, focused action is necessary, experts say. Africa’s agriculture sector grew more than 3.5 percent in 2008, compared to a population growth on the continent of 2 percent, the FAO says.
However, several factors stand in the way of increased and sustainable food production in Africa. Eighty percent of the continent’s farms are less than two hectares. Irrigation is scant - only three percent of land in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated, compared to more than 20 percent globally. Fertilizer use is far less in sub-Saharan Africa than it is in the rest of the world. For example, in 2002 it was only 13kg per hectare, compared to 190kg in East Asia and the Pacific, according to the FAO.
If little or no progress is made in improving Africa’s agriculture sector, the U.N. says that the continent’s hungry will be among the estimated 370 million people worldwide who could face famine by 2050. Net investments of U.S. $83 billion a year – an increase of about 50 percent - must be made in agriculture in developing countries for there to be enough food to feed 9.1 billion people in 40 years, the U.N. says.
Higher world prices for food commodities such as wheat and rice, a generally more favorable agriculture policy environment, and growth of a drought-resistant rice variety – NERICA - have contributed to Africa’s agricultural growth, says the FAO.
Some factors that stand in the way of greater growth are:
Agriculture experts say that one of the most economical ways to diminish rural poverty and hunger is through the support of smallholder farmers. The FAO says that about 85 percent of the world’s farms are smaller than two hectares, and smallholder farmers and their families represent one-third of the world’s population, or two billion people.
- Slow progress in regional integration
- Diseases such as HIV / Aids
- Poor access to markets
- Inadequate training
- The global economic crisis
- Climate change
- Gender disparities
- Lack of land tenure rights, and
- Governance and institutional shortcomings
Africans, on their own and with the support of international organizations, are coming up with innovative ways to boost sustainable food production. Many say a Green Revolution is possible, with the right support.
“Eighty percent of farmers in Africa are smallholder farmers. The majority of them are women,” says Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad). “They produce 80 percent of the food that is consumed by Africans. Obviously, if these are the people that produce the food that we eat, we must invest in smallholder agriculture.”
Both international and domestic investments in agriculture waned in the 1980s and 1990s, when the sector was seriously eroded during the structural adjustment policies imposed by donor nations and international financial institutions. But there appears to be a growing interest in agriculture and food security. The G8 meeting of leaders of eight industrialized nations, gathered in Italy in July, pledged $20 billion to support agriculture in the developing world.
At the FAO’s 2009 World Security Summit in Rome from 16-10 November, world leaders pledged to renew and intensify their efforts to wipe out hunger. They acknowledged that the global community has neglected and under-invested in agricultural – especially in producing food to feed the world’s poorest. They promised to reverse the decline in both domestic and international spending for agriculture and to promote new investment and better policies in the sector, as well as to proactively attack climate change as a threat to food security.
Governments in developed countries and private donors around the world are also critiquing their own past lack of attention to food security issues. Last month, the day before World Food Day, observed on 16 October every year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a total of $120 million in grants for nine agricultural projects. African initiatives were the major beneficiaries. The Foundation has committed some U.S.$1.4 billion to agricultural development efforts, making it one of the largest donors in the sector.
There are many contentious issues to be resolved, as nations individually and collectively work to produce enough food to feed the world’s people. Debates will rage over genetically modified seeds and crops, over intensive use of herbicides and fertilizers versus more organic methods, over the sale of large swaths of African farmland to countries like China, India and Saudi Arabia, and over the role of climate change in the droughts and floods and other weather extremes that Africa is already experiencing. But the shift towards paying new attention to food production and to the plight of those who go to bed hungry every night is unmistakable.
As Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete says, “Agriculture is everything.”
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