By Rotimi Sankore
The ongoing AU Summit theme on Agriculture and Food Security is long overdue. The inability of many African governments to implement policy and investment for effective mass food production, storage, distribution and affordability is one of the most inexplicable challenge’s facing our continent, and which undermines health, and entrenches poverty.
Some people overemphasize impressive looking but narrow economic growth rates in some countries as a solution to poverty, overlooking that the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation amongst others has stated clearly in its 2013 report on food insecurity – that growth may raise some incomes, but higher economic growth may not reach everyone, and may not lead to more and better jobs for all, unless policies specifically target the poor, especially those in rural areas.
The FAO has further underlined that agricultural growth has been found to be much more effective than general economic growth at reducing poverty for the very poor. Growth in agriculture reduces USD1 a day headcount poverty more than three times faster than growth in non-agricultural sectors.
Development agencies have underlined repeatedly that maternal and child under-nutrition is the primary route through which poverty is transmitted from one generation to the next. About a quarter of all children under the age of five are stunted and about half suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies, which in turn affects development, resulting in cognitive problems, stunting and weak immune systems. About half of pregnant women in developing countries suffer from anaemia. Malnourished pregnant women are more likely to give birth to underweight babies, who are more likely to die before their fifth birthday.
Despite this knowledge, Africa’s population policies remain inadequate and we are at cross roads of either reaping a demographic dividend, or facing a demographic catastrophe. Africa’s population is projected to double to over 2 billion by 2050 with no commensurate investment in food security or health in sight.
Contextual note for media and stakeholders] Nigeria with over 12 million people currently in a state of hunger is projected to grow from present population to about 259 million people by 2050. Democratic Republic of the Congo by one estimate the most food insecure country in the world will grow to 189 million.
ECOWAS currently has 11 countries with over 1 million people each in a state of hunger, yet all ECOWAS Countries except Cape Verde are in the group of countries with highest total fertility rate per woman of 4.0 to 7.0. and with exception of Cape Verde and Ghana – are included in a group of 15 countries with the lowest contraceptive prevalence.
Projections for Africa are not looking very bright, unless heads of state begin working urgently with Ministers responsible for Finance, Planning, Agriculture and Nutrition to redress the problem of hunger. If increased food insecurity combines with Africa’s currently inadequate health financing and already monumental infectious, non-infectious and neglected disease burdens – the combination can bring the continent to its knees.
The proven link and interaction between food insecurity, conflict, refugees, internally displaced persons and failed or failing states means many African countries remain on the brink of disaster. The regional economic powers and giants such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and others cannot afford to fall into the type of quagmire that has befallen Somalia, and now hanging over Mali.
Africa already has millions of displaced food insecure persons. A county like Nigeria with over 12 million people in a state of hunger can tip over the edge very easily and trigger regional instability due to inadequate food reserves and vulnerability to even the slightest shocks to food supply.
Improved real time data for better policy-making and accountability is a must for African governments. There is little or no official evidence based forecasting, and its clear from the divergence between weak policies and dire reality that many countries need to invest heavily in basic data and indicators for real time evidence based policy and investment.
As with ECOWAS, East Africa, and the Horn of Africa are inching towards tipping point. All the countries in the Horn and East of Africa all have over 25% of their populations affected by hunger, and the same regions contain 4 out of the 5 countries with the most number of people affected by hunger (Ethiopia 32.1 million; Tanzania 15.7 million; Kenya 11 million; and Uganda 10.7 million).
Not only is the AU Assembly of heads of states required to come up with a cohesive food security investment strategy – ECOWAS, the East African Community and Horn of Africa also need sub region specific strategies and the leadership of countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya are crucial to this.
Calling for urgent multi-sectoral coordination between key sectors, Sankore emphasized that the fact that Africa is not on track to achieve the 2015 MDG targets on hunger reduction means that the AU 2014 summit theme of agriculture and food security is possibly the last chance of African governments to avert failure, and all the possible catastrophic consequences that comes with it.
Sankore is the Editor, Afri-Dev.Info