Global food systems have been plagued by overlapping crises in recent years. Chief among these are the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian-Ukraine war, and extreme weather events due to climate change. These have led to forced migration, job losses, climate stress, loss of biodiversity and economic instability.
In Africa, where 1.5 billion people live, these shocks and stressors are decades of progress in improving food security and nutrition have slowed down or even reversed;. For example, 37 million people in the Great Horn of Africa face acute hunger in one of the worst droughts in the region in decades.
These multiple crises have forced the world to recognize that improving nutrition and food security requires more resilient global and national food systems. Food systems are the sum of actors and interactions along the food value chain – from input supply and production to transportation, processing, retail, wholesale, preparation, consumption and disposal.
As set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG2), the journey towards food and nutrition security for Africa has a clear destination:zero hunger. The goal is to guarantee access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all people by 2030.
The recently launched Africa Agriculture Status Report examines the continent’s progress in food and nutrition security.
We contributed to the editing of the report, which has six main themes. It maps a roadmap to reach the goal faster and adapt to a changing environment. Our report coincided with World Food Day 2022, with the theme: safer food, better health.
Without transformative change like the Asian Green Revolution, African food systems will continue to hinder human development. They will also remain too dependent on food imports. Without a strong push for sustainable farming practices, the continent’s food systems will exacerbate environmental destruction. Urgent action is needed to anticipate megatrends, strengthen political will, mobilize investment and strengthen capacity.
Five ways to transform African food systems
The need for real cost accounting
Development workers working in Africa have real costing for our food systems. It should explicitly consider all environmental, social and human health impacts related to the way food systems are organised. For example, 74% of sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural production growth since 2000 has been achieved through area expansion and only 26% through increased yields. This is far from ideal. Relying on area expansion has turned forests and grasslands into cropland on a large scale. The result is significant damage to the region’s stock of natural resources and ecosystem services.
A true cost accounting framework describes the costs of this approach. It would lead to the recognition that technical innovation is important to improve yields on existing agricultural land. It would show that this is a more sustainable approach to production growth, better health and better nutrition.
Anticipate the megatrends
African governments must be prepared for the major demographic, economic, environmental and social trends shaping the continent’s food systems. Among which:
rapid population growth, associated land scarcity and rapidly rising land prices
rapidly growing demand for food, driven by rapidly expanding urban areas, rising incomes and purchasing power
more frequent and intense weather disturbances related to climate change
global health crises, economic disruptions and civil conflicts such as the Russian-Ukraine war
technical innovation in digital agriculture.
Africa’s food systems continue to evolve in response to these drivers. Food policy and investment strategies must also change. We’re chasing a moving target.
Role of leadership
Leadership is essential to harness collective efforts, shared responsibility, stakeholder engagement and political will to transform food systems.
Political leaders can hit the accelerator or hit the brakes. The complex nature of our food systems requires key actors, including national governments, international bodies, civil society, farmers’ organizations and the private sector, to work together towards the common goal.
Governments and regional agencies are at the center of food systems interventions.
Financing is the fuel needed to accelerate transformation. Based on recent estimates from New Growth Internationala network-based management consultancy, transforming food systems in Africa requires up to $77 billion a year from the public sector and up to $180 billion from the private sector.
To mobilize funding on a large scale, African governments need to:
to set priorities
commit to funding priority actions
improve coordination between the government and the private sector
ensure good governance and accountability.
Capabilities and possibilities
Africa needs to invest in domestic human, institutional and system-wide capabilities and capabilities. Capacity development efforts should be guided by seven core principles: land ownership and leadership; alignment with national needs and priorities; use of national systems and local expertise; no “one-size-fits-all” tactics; multi-level approaches; and mutual responsibility.
We also note that while agricultural research capacity increased by 90% between 2000 and 2016, public investment in agricultural research systems decreased. This threatens Africa’s ability to adapt the latest technologies to local conditions.
Call to action
The African and global food systems urgently need to be transformed to make them more resilient and sustainable. Failure is not an option.
Transformation requires a coordinated approach by governments, development partners, the private sector and civil society. It’s time to put into practice the carefully crafted strategies, policy reforms and investment plans identified in the latest report.
Food shortages in Africa will grow in a warmer world
Quote: Towards Zero Hunger in Africa: Five Steps to Achieve Food Security (2022, October 18) retrieved October 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-hunger-africa-food.html
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