Washington — Sub-Saharan Africa can free itself from pervasive food insecurity and reliance on food aid if it adopts new policies, according to a report from the United Nations Development Programme.
While the region has experienced widespread economic growth in recent years, many of the gains have not led to improved food security, UNDP said in its first African Human Development Report: Toward a Food Secure Future. It said new policies are needed to help smallholder farmers produce more food, improve the nutrition of the food, increase capacity to cope with shocks of weather changes and conflict, and expand empowerment of women and rural poor.
The report was discussed July 20 at a meeting of food aid officials and aid workers at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
Senior Brookings fellow Mwangi Kimenyi said the problem of sub-Saharan Africa’s food insecurity is exacerbated by major challenges posed by the international food system. He said that although food prices have been stable since the price spikes of 2007 and 2008, prices could increase again as the result of drought during 2012 in major food-growing areas of the United States. In addition, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is growing (it is expected to double by 2050), demand by consumers in emerging economies for meat is growing, and there is increased use of crops to make biofuel, he said.
The report says there also are positive factors in the region that could benefit its food security. “Sub-Saharan Africa has the knowledge, the technology and the means to end hunger. But still missing have been the political will and dedication,” the report says.
The report states that irrigation and providing farmers with better market access are long-term challenges for sub-Saharan Africa. “When farmers can transport their surpluses quickly and cheaply to points of sale or storage, they have incentives to increase production,” it says.
At the meeting, Beth Dunford, who works on the Feed the Future initiative at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), said policy changes must be accompanied by more private-sector investment.”Public-sector investment is not enough,” she said.
She touted the U.S. initiative announced at a meeting of the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs in May, just before a meeting in Maryland of the heads of the G8 group of advanced economies. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is a $3 billion commitment by the G8 plus 21 African and 27 multinational companies to lift 50 million people in Africa out of poverty by 2022. New agricultural investments resulting from the agreement will span all areas of agriculture, including irrigation, crop protection, financing and infrastructure.
“Africa’s economic growth, with agriculture as a strong driver, is creating substantial new business opportunities and the rate of return on foreign investment in Africa is higher than in any other developing region,” USAID said in a May 18 fact sheet.
“The private sector can increase food availability by not only increasing investment in production but also by linking smallholder farmers to broader markets and creating incentives for innovation that improve productivity,” it said.