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Food strategies for Africa


Key documents:

Food security in the Africa region

FAO's Special Programme for Food Security

Africa faces a continental challenge

Africa has seen a sharp drop in per caput agricultural production over much of the continent in the past 25 years and is seeking to reverse this trend in order to increase significantly its per caput food supplies by the year 2010 to improve the diet of its growing population.

Some countries such as Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have made progress towards food security. Development specialists believe that concerted action to increase both production of and access to food could bring a dramatic improvement in the lives of many millions of Africans.

Natural allies: farmers in Ghana set pest against pest

Agriculture is a key sector in most African countries, employing about 63 percent of the labour force. It contributes 20 percent of the GDP in sub-Saharan Africa and provides more than half the export earnings of 17 of the region's 46 countries.

While food production has grown faster than population worldwide, Africa - with the exception of countries north of the Sahara - has fallen behind. Agricultural output grew at the rate of about 1.9 percent a year in sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 1990, while the region's population growth rate, one of the highest in the world, averaged 3 percent. The result is a decline in per caput food production of nearly 18 percent over the past 20 years.

The reasons for this widening gap between nutritional needs and available food are many, including an external debt that, according to the World Bank, rose from about US$84 billion in 1980 to $289 billion in 1993. Drought, diseases, pests and a lack of adequate irrigation, fertilizer and other key inputs were also factors.

Armed conflicts have heightened the problem. Of the 32 million people who received relief assistance from the World Food Programme in 1994, 21.5 million were Africans, nearly two-thirds of whom were victims of war and civil strife.

"Unless adequate policy measures are taken, with the utmost commitment and urgency on the part of national governments and the international community, the already disastrous situation facing many countries risks reaching unmanageable dimensions," a report to the 19th FAO African Regional Conference in Burkina Faso warned this year.

"In the absence of extraordinary measures to accelerate the reduction in undernutrition, all but one of the 36 countries presently having more than 20 percent of their populations undernourished would still remain in this category by 2010."

Pointing to the relationship between poverty and hunger, the report said: "At the basis of any significant reduction in poverty-related insecurity in Africa must be a revival of economic and agricultural growth. A prosperous and productive agricultural sector would be the driving economic force providing food, employment, savings and markets for goods from the industrial sector."