World Food Day on Saturday 16th October comes at a time where Africa is at a cross roads in its agriculture development. Leading regional initiatives such as the Common Africa Agriculture Development Programme (known as CAADP) and international frameworks such as the Programme on Global Food Security reflect renewed momentum behind agriculture sector reform. On the other hand, Africa continues to face real challenges in reducing the number of hungry and delivering lasting change to farmers unable to fairly participate in food markets.
In the developing world Africa, is one of the regions most affected by problems of hunger. More than 200 million people across the continent are affected by chronic malnutrition. Despite a fall in the total number of people affected by hunger since the global downturn, on average, one in three Africans remains hungry. FAO is working in partnership with African governments, UN agencies and development stakeholders for hunger reduction in the region through a twin track approach of boosting food productivity and widening food access.
Hunger trends in the region can be related to a combination of factors such as low productivity and expanding populations, in addition to the increasing costs of food. Food prices in Africa have reached record highs following the food crisis of 2008 and are yet to return to their pre crisis levels. Importantly lack of access to food can also be attributed to poor marketing infrastructure. Many African countries struggle to efficiently transport and deliver food due to poor roads and connection points. Those suffering from hunger are often facing the consequences of poor food distribution, a situation which is much worse for low income communities in remote rural areas.
Crop production especially for export crops, has increased thanks to advances in agriculture research and technology, and government policies to support farmers on input subsidies and market incentives. FAO is working with farmers to tackle poor productivity through the distribution of inputs and tools designed to raise crop yields. In Northern Cameroon, hundreds of community seed enterprises have been established with FAO assistance, to enable farmers to produce seeds that are able to cope with a changing climate.
However, food production increases have not always translated into the equitable distribution for food in the region. Rising unequal access to food has been associated with problems of food poverty where vulnerable rural and urban communities are unable to afford basic food commodities due to lack of access to low cost nutritious food.
Focus on productivity alone has obscured issues of food access which is vital for finding solution to ending hunger in Africa. Widening channels for low income rural households to gain access to affordable food is a major priority to FAO in the region. Barriers to trade that restrict the distribution of food, spiraling food costs and the problem of dependence on food imports are issues at the heart of FAO interventions within the region.
FAO’s Initiative on Soaring Food Prices involved the large scale distribution of seeds, fertilizer and animal feed covering 35 African countries. In West Africa alone 430,000 people were assisted (covering 48,500 households) in the provision of crop inputs and training, raising $17M for targeted support to small holder farmers and rural households. The EU Food Facility, coordinated and led by FAO was launched in 2009 providing $ 166M in funding for Africa.
The Regional Office for Africa aims to support food markets and assist governments in addressing rural poverty through the formulation of regional, sub regional and national programmes on food security.
Ghana’s National Food Security Programme, coordinated with assistance from FAO has been hailed as success story for the continent. The programme focused on the effective use of low-cost irrigation techniques, diversifying from crops into livestock and fish and the introduction of high value horticultural crops. Results from the programme showed that villages had increased their food production and generated increased income from the sale of vegetables, small animals and aquaculture.
Protecting the right to food for vulnerable groups is a major principle for FAO underlying its approach towards eliminating hunger. In Africa the right to food, although supported by a majority of nation states is not heavily protected in liberalized food markets, where vulnerable groups are often left without adequate protection from rising food prices and food scarcity. FAO is working with African governments to ensure that food is a right for all by tackling food poverty for vulnerable groups.
Dr. Akin Adesina, Vice President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), highlights the growing importance of the ‘democracy of the stomach’ in Africa, citing the significance of political pressure on agriculture policy following food riots in Mozambique.
Rising expenditure on agriculture is a sign that governments are beginning to respond, Mali spends 11% of its total budget on agriculture compared to 15% in Burkina Faso and 17% in Ethiopia.
Elevating the voice of the poor in decision making on agriculture development is part of FAO’s strategy to deliver hunger reduction. FAO promotes the engagement of rural farmers’ organization in shaping the outcomes of national and regional policies on agriculture to ensure that their voices are heard. Low capacity and limited resources have restricted the effectiveness of local farmers groups in Africa. FAO is supporting capacity building for producer organizations to give farmers greater influence on national strategies on hunger reduction.
World Food Day aims to raise awareness about the problems posed by hunger and to create support behind scaling up solution on malnutrition and rural poverty.
FAO is also looking to use the opportunity to gather support for the 1 billion hungry project, a campaign launched by FAO in May this year. The campaign is a drive to raise awareness about the issue of global hunger which calls on the public to support a petition against hunger. A target of 1 million signatures has been set, to achieve before the FAO council in Rome in November, where the petition will be presented to world leaders. Over 100,000 signatures have already been collected across Africa.