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Topic: Measurement / Assessment

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Why has Africa become a net food importer?

That Africa has become a net importer of food and of agricultural products, despite its vast agricultural potential, is puzzling. Using data mainly for the period 1960-2007, this report seeks to explain Africa’s food-trade deficit since the mid-1970s. The core finding is that population growth, low and stagnating agricultural productivity, policy distortions, weak institutions and poor infrastructure are the main reasons. A typology of African countries based on data between 2000 and 2005 reveals that the state of food import dependency is different across the continent and varies according to countries’ levels of income. Although the few and relatively rich countries in Africa had the highest net food imports per capita (USD 185 per year in real terms), they had ample means to pay for their food import bills using revenue from non-agricultural sources. Conversely, the majority of the Africa’s low-income countries (mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa), where twothird of its population lives, had been net food importers; they imported far less food per capita (USD 17 per year) but had difficulty covering their food imports bills, as their export revenues were limited. Overall, between 1980 and 2007, Africa’s total net food imports in real term grew at 3.4 percent per year, but this growth was mostly fuelled by population growth (2.6 percent per year); the increase in per capita food import was only about 0.8 percent per year. Food consumption on per capita basis grew only at about 1 percent per year, while food production grew at an even smaller rate of less than 0.1 percent per year. The slow growth of food consumption and imports per capita is consistent with the weak economic growth and unchanged dietary pattern in the continent. Food import share, regardless of income levels, is relatively small and represents less than 5 percent of per capita income (GDP per capita). Because the share of food expense in household income is generally high in Africa, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, that the share of food imports over GDP is small implies that domestic production has largely contributed to feeding Africa’s population. Still, domestic food production has remained relatively low and increased only by 2.7 percent per year, just barely above population growth rate. This implies that any increase in per capita consumption had to be met by an increase in imports. The weak growth in food production arises from various constraints including those linked directly to agricultural productivity. Data and evidence from literature highlight that technical, infrastructural and institutional constraints share the blame. Likewise, distortions arising from both internal and external economic and agricultural policies (especially the protection and subsidies from developed countries and taxation on food production within Africa) have affected food productivity, production and trade in Africa. However, the examples of a few successful practices in African agriculture and the fact that the domestic food production has managed to keep up with population growth inspire optimism that the future is not all dark. There is a lot of room for improvement for agricultural productivity in these low-income countries to the point at which production growth outpaces the growth of population and per capita consumption.

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The State of Food and Agriculture 2014

More than 500 million family farms manage the majority of the world's agricultural land and produce most of the world's food. We need family farms to ensure global food security, to care for and protect the natural environment and to end poverty, undernourishment and malnutrition. Goals can be thoroughly achieved if public policies support family farms to become more productive and sustainable; in other words policies must support family farms to innovate within a system that recognizes their diversity and the complexity of the challenges faced.

The State of Food and Agriculture 2014: Innovation in family farming analyses family farms and the role of innovation in ensuring global food security, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. It argues that family farms must be supported to innovate in ways that promote sustainable intensification of production and improvements in rural livelihoods.

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The Right to Food: Past commitment, current obligation, further action for the future - A Ten-Year Retrospective on the Right to Food Guidelines

Synthesis Report capturing the main findings of the Studies carried out for the CFS.

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Russia’s restrictions on imports of agricultural and food products: An initial assessment

On 7 August 2014 Russia announced a ban on food imports from Western countries which, in an earlier move, had imposed sanctions on Russian business interests in connection with the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The prohibition was effective immediately, and will stay in place for one year, blocking all imports of affected products from the European Union, United States, Canada, Australia and Norway. The list published by the Russian government covers bovine meat, pig meat, processed meats, poultry, fish and other seafood, milk and milk products, vegetables, fruits and nuts1. The import ban came in the wake of other import restrictions imposed by Russia on agricultural and food products earlier this year. In January 2014, Russia banned all pork imports from the EU on the grounds of recorded cases of African swine fever in wild boars in border areas of Poland and Lithuania. Other prohibitions included a ban on dairy exports from the Netherlands, quoting sanitary reasons, and on exports of meat from Ukraine, referring to an inadequate level of monitoring of meat quality standards. At the end of July 2014 bans on milk and milk products from Ukraine and fruit from Moldova were introduced, all on SPS grounds. On 1 August 2014 fruits and vegetables from Poland had already been blocked from entering the Russian market on the basis of unacceptable levels of pesticide residues and nitrates.

Although the latest bans add to a long list of import restrictions already in place, the scope of the bans, involving a large range of products from the main exporters to the Russian market raised concerns that supplies of key commodities to the Russian market would be further constrained, with negative implications for Russian consumers across all income levels, at least in the short run. This note examines the importance of the affected imports for consumption in Russia and discusses factors which will influence the dynamics of supply and demand response to the ban