How Africa should tackle hunger - The Citizen

How Africa should tackle hunger

Saturday March 16 2019


By Syriacus Buguzi

A joint report by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) revealed that hunger is accelerating in Africa, with 23 per cent of the continent’s population being undernourished. This comes after several years of decline.

Titled ‘The 2018 Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition Report,’ the joint UN report further states that sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected by hunger on the continent – with eastern Africa carrying a third of the hunger burden vis-a-vis the rest of the continent where hunger has risen since 2015.

According to the report launched in Addis Ababa on February 12 this year, the prevalence of underfeeding in Tanzania stood at 32 per cent as of 2017, compared with 34.4 per cent in 2005. Much has been said on the state of hunger at the regional level. But the incidence of underfeeding in Tanzania has declined over a period of 10 years.

To shed further light on the state of hunger in Africa – and what can be done to tackle the situation – The Citizen Reporter SYRIACUS BUGUZI spoke to FAO’s Regional Representative for Africa ABEBE HAILE-GABRIEL in an exclusive interview: Excerpts:

QUESTION: In the wake of this report: are there any plans in place to help African governments accelerate efforts to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition on the continent?

ANSWER: There have been initiatives supporting countries in their efforts to meet the (UN Sustainable Development Goals-2030) goals on food security and nutrition through accelerated transformation of their agriculture and food systems. For example, through its ‘Regional Initiative on Africa’s Commitment to End Hunger by 2025,’ FAO has been supporting regional and country efforts.

Much of these efforts are focused on (a): policy advocacy towards enhanced prioritization and strategy for the agri-food sector transformation; (b): improving the enabling environment to attract investments and gainful employment in agri-food systems; (c): strengthening the capacity of key national and regional institutions for improved services delivery, multi-stakeholders engagement and coordination, and strengthened systems for evidence-based policy and tracking progress; and (d): mobilizing partnerships for synergetic, integrated and coherent delivery on SDGs and the Malabo (‘Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods’) commitments around the goals of ending hunger and malnutrition, among others.

Question: Countries that are committed to the values and principles of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and their National Agriculture Investment Plans (NAIPs) performed better. But, how many African countries are implementing CAADP and the NAIPs?

Answer: CAADP is a framework that guides investment priorities to achieve agricultural transformation in Africa. Since 2007 – when Rwanda signed the very first CAADP Compact – more than 40 countries had formally engaged in implementing agriculture development strategies informed by CAADP values and principles, using variants of national agriculture investment plans as tools to guide investments and actions.

CAADP urges governments to make good on their Maputo-2003 (AU-2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security) commitments of allocating at least 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture. It should not come as a surprise that the evidence provided in the (UN FAO/ECA) Report suggests that the countries which have demonstrated better effectiveness in terms of implementation of their national agriculture investment plans had performed better towards progress on food security and nutrition goals.

Question: Are there any plans to bring together the countries that have successfully reduced food insecurity and malnutrition to share their knowledge – and encourage the countries that didn’t implement the agreements to act so that all forms of hunger and malnutrition in Africa are ended by 2030?

Answer: Yes, there are ongoing efforts that facilitate experience-sharing and mutual-learning on good practices within Africa – and also between African countries and countries in South America and Asia through the South-South Cooperation programme.

FAO has been facilitating this through organizing training programmes, seminars, study tours, documentation and dissemination of best practices. The feedback that we have been receiving indicates that these opportunities are useful in making certain improvements in those countries. These efforts will be stepped up in the future.

Question: Of the 257 million hungry people in Africa, 237 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. How can this number of people living with hunger be reduced in the freseeable future?

Answer: The high number of people living with hunger in Africa reflects the high level of vulnerability of those people to drivers of hunger, as well as their marginalisation in socio-economic activities. A strategy of reducing the number of hungry people is, therefore, primarily about dealing with systemic and structural vulnerability and marginalisation.

Most of the poor in Africa reside in rural areas eking out a living from a lowly-productive agricultural occupation. A structural change and accelerated transformation of the agri-food systems and the rural sector is called for if Africa is not only to lift the majority of its poor population out of the sorry state of hunger and malnutrition, but to also register sustainable socio-economic development.

This must be complemented by efforts towards building resilience of livelihoods and production systems. This is what guides FAO’s collaboration with regional and national partners.

Question: How do you think sub-Sahara African countries should deal with these challenges so as to improve their livelihoods: the ‘difficult’ global economic state; worsening environmental conditions – and, in many countries, internecine conflicts…?

Answer: It is true that most of the conditions may be associated with external factors, such as the global economic downturn; worsening environmental conditions, extreme climate variability, etc.

However, what ultimately determines success in food security and nutrition is the extent to which countries have built capacities and systems to enable them withstand and effectively respond to the impacts of these factors – and, most importantly, beyond.

Let’s state the obvious. African countries will, for example, never enjoy comparative advantages by being dependent on food imports. They have immense opportunities to produce food items locally in the needed quantities and qualities and, thereby reaping the huge benefits that strengthen sustainable and productive agri-food systems. This also entails the generation and expansion of gainful employment, savings, foreign exchange earnings, developing agri-food industries, etc.

So, the solution is not going to be putting in place some fire-fighting and ad hoc responses to external shocks – however important these may be. It requires real commitment and determination at all levels – but, particularly, at the highest possible level – to prioritise and invest in agri-food systems for accelerated, sustained transformation.

In this respect, the recent initiative by the African Union (AU) to motivate such actions through introducing Score Cards on performance of countries regarding the ‘Malabo’ commitments is a good step in the right direction.

FAO has been supporting this initiative while encouraging regional and country partners to undertake this in an integrated and coherent manner with the SDGs.