Food security is a critical issue for Africa today

09Jun 2020
Editor
The Guardian
Food security is a critical issue for Africa today

FOOD security in sub-Saharan Africa is under threat. The ability of many Africans to access sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs has been disrupted by successive natural disasters and epidemics. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, locust outbreaks in eastern Africa,-

-and droughts in southern and eastern Africa are some examples. In some countries, over 70 per cent of the population has problems accessing food.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s most food-insecure region, and in the June 2020 sub-Saharan Africa Regional Economic Outlook , we show that climate change is increasing that insecurity.

The sub-Saharan is particularly vulnerable to the forces of climate change. Almost half the population lives below the poverty line and depends on rain-fed agriculture, herding, and fishing to survive . With each climate shock, whether drought, flood or cyclone, farmers suffer directly, while shortages elevate the price of food for all.

Africans are easily pushed into food insecurity because their ability to adapt is limited by many factors, including low savings and access to finance and insurance. As a result, lives are lost, malnutrition rises, health worsens, and school enrollment drops. All this, ultimately damages the economy’s productive capacity.

At this critical juncture, sub-Saharan Africa needs to prioritize policies targeted at reducing risks to food security as part of fiscal stimulus packages.

African policies should focus on increasing agricultural output, and strengthening households’ ability to withstand shocks. This would have the added benefit of reducing inequalities while boosting economic growth and jobs.

Many countries in the region were proactive in protecting their food supply by raising crop productivity and reducing their sensitivity to inclement weather.

Maintaining this momentum calls for continued progress in improving irrigation, seeds, and erosion protection, all of which would substantially boost production. Meanwhile raising farmers’ awareness would also accelerate implementation of these measures.

Adapting to climate change is critical to safeguarding the hard-earned progress in economic development sub-Saharan Africa has achieved in recent decades. However, adaptation will be especially challenging given countries’ limited capacity and financial resources.

The priority then should be on making progress in select, critical areas which could have an outsized impact in reducing the chances of a family becoming food insecure when faced with shocks from climate change or epidemics.

For instance, progress in finance, telecoms, housing, and health care can reduce a family’s chance of facing food shortages by 30 per cent.

Higher incomes from diverse sources , and access to finance would help households buy food even when prices rise, allow them to invest in resilience ahead of a shock, and better cope afterwards.

Access to mobile phone networks enables people to benefit from early warning systems and gives farmers information on food prices and weather—just a single text or voice message, could help them decide when to plant or irrigate.

Better-built homes and farm buildings would protect people and food storage from climate shocks. Combined with good sanitation and drainage systems, they would also preserve people’s earning capacity by preventing injuries, and the spread of disease, while ensuring safe drinking water.

Improved health care helps people return to work quickly after a shock; and, along with education, raises their income potential and helps inform their decisions.

Social assistance also has a major impact as it is critical in compensating people for lost income and purchasing power after a shock hits. Insurance and disaster risk financing can be critical too, but the success of these programs in sub-Saharan Africa often relies on government subsidies and improvements in financial literacy.