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Topic: Policies and Strategies

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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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Monitoring commitment and capacity to act on food insecurity and malnutrition

Monitoring commitment and capacity to act on food insecurity and malnutrition: the Food Security Commitment and Capacity Profile methodology

There is a global consensus that strong political commitment by Governments and development partners is key to the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. It is against this background that FAO has developed a methodology to assess and track efforts of national stakeholders to act on food insecurity and malnutrition: the Food Security Commitment and Capacity Profile (FSCCP) ( ).

The methodology provides a tool that helps stakeholders to:

1. Carry out a systematic assessment of political commitment and capacity of countries to act on food insecurity and malnutrition;

2. Engage in evidence-based policy dialogue, planning and prioritization of investments in food security and nutrition; and

3. Monitor performance over time;

The methodology has been applied since 2013 in the context of FAO’s corporate Results Framework ( for planning and monitoring progress of efforts to reduce hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

The food security commitment and capacity country profile is designed as a balanced score card which provides a concise view of countries’ commitments and institutional capacities in terms of four key dimensions of the enabling environment, namely:

i. Policies, programmes and legal frameworks: i.e. the country has comprehensive policies/ strategies and investment programmes (based on evidence, addressing underlying causes of food insecurity and adopting a twin-track approach) that are supported by a legal framework;

ii. Human and financial resources: i.e. policies/strategies, programmes and legislation that are translated into effective action through the allocation of the necessary financial and human resources and solid administrative capacity of governments;

iii. Governance, coordination mechanisms and partnerships: i.e. the government regards food security and nutrition as an interdisciplinary priority by setting up a high level inter-ministerial unit responsible for the design, implementation and coordination of food security and nutrition responses, while ensuring accountability through its support to independent human rights institutions that provide people with means to file violations of the right to food. Furthermore, a government that takes on a lead role in managing partnerships and coordinated action across a broad range of actors and sectors involved in food security and nutrition at national/decentralized levels, creating space for civil society participation;

iv. Evidenced-based decision-making: i.e. decision-making on food security and nutrition that draws on evidence generated from functional information systems that make it possible to monitor trends; track and map actions; and assess impact in a manner that is timely and comprehensive, allowing for lessons learned to be fed back into the policy process.

For each of these four dimensions, the methodology paper outlines:

1. A set of core indicators and associated qualifiers;

2. The approach to producing a score for each of the qualifiers and indicators;

3. Details on the sources of the required data and information.

4. A survey instrument and secondary data collection tools.

Apart from helping FAO to measure the outcome of its work on food security and nutrition, it is expected that the country profiles will also stimulate debate on how to improve the enabling environment for food security and nutrition and promote more systematic learning and sharing of experiences.

It would be interesting to hear from the experiences of other agencies and sectors that are monitoring political commitment.

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The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014

SOFI 2014 presents updated estimates of undernourishment and progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and World Food Summit (WFS) hunger targets.

The 2014 report also presents further insights into the suite of food security indicators introduced in 2013 and analyses in greater depth the dimensions of food security – availability, access, stability and utilization.

In addition, this year’s report examines the diverse experiences of seven countries, with a specific focus on the enabling environment for food security and nutrition that reflects commitment and capacities across four dimensions: policies, programmes and legal frameworks; mobilization of human and financial resources; coordination mechanisms and partnerships; and evidence-based decision-making.

You can read the key messages or download your full copy from the FAO website:


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Impacts of foreign agricultural investment in developing countries: evidence from case studies

by Pascal Liu, Senior Economist, Trade and Markets Division, FAO.  
Although there has been much debate about the potential benefits and risks of international investment, there is a lack of systematic evidence on the actual impacts on the host country and their determinants. This paper summarizes the results of FAO’s case studies on foreign investment in developing country agriculture.

FAO’s studies on foreign investment in developing country agriculture suggest that the disadvantages of large-scale land acquisitions often outweigh the few benefits to the local community. In countries where local land rights are not clearly defined and governance is weak, large scale land acquisition raises particularly high risks for the local community.  Even from the perspective of the investor, land acquisition is unlikely to be the most profitable business model due to the high potential for conflict and damage to reputation.

Conversely, the studies suggest that investments that involve local farmers as equal business partners, giving them an active role and leaving them in control of their land, have the most positive and sustainable effects on local economies and social development. These inclusive business models need strong external support for supporting farmers and facilitating the investor-farmers relationship in order to succeed. They also require ‘patient capital’, as financial returns to investment are unlikely to materialize in the first years.

Beside the business model, other important factors include the legal and institutional framework in the host country, the terms and conditions of the investment contract and the social and economic condition in the investment area. Strengthening the governance and capacity of institutions in host developing countries is essential to enhancing the developmental impacts of foreign agricultural investment.