Pan-African initiatives to boost food production and research and development could boost yields on farms across the continent. Photo Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPSBy Joyce Chimbi (Nairobi)Tuesday November 22, 2022Inter Press Service
Nairobi, 22 November (IPS) – Upheaval on the global stage, the war in Ukraine, the Horn of Africa conflict, severe climate shocks, high international inflation, rising global commodity prices, high agricultural input prices and low intracontinental trade are heating the food insecurity across Africa.
Of the 24 countries identified as hunger hotspots by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program in 2022, 16 are in Africa. The continent accounts for 62 percent of the total number of food insecure people in hotspot countries.
“Over time, climate shocks have significantly impacted Africa’s delicate food chain. The worst drought in decades continues in the Horn of Africa, floods in West Africa and severe cyclones in Madagascar and Mozambique. Climate change will help Africa’s already very low agricultural yields fall by 5 to 17 percent by 2050,” said Hafez Ghanem, former regional vice president of the World Bank Group and currently nonresident senior fellow in the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings Institution.
External factors – the disruption to food systems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting reduced purchasing power, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which led to a spike in global food, fuel and fertilizer prices – coupled with drastic weather changes and a Continuation or intensification of conflict and insecurity have threatened an already fragile food chain.
According to Ghanem, conflict and climate change are the most pressing challenges facing Africa, creating conditions of food insecurity, worsening food insecurity and making it harder for the continent to get food on the table. In turn, growing food insecurity is a catalyst for conflict.
One in five, or an estimated 140 million, people in Africa face acute food insecurity. The situation is even worse in conflict-affected countries and regions, including the Horn of Africa, northern Nigeria, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sahel.
According to the FAO and WFP, three countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria – are responsible for more than 56 percent of food insecurity in Africa.
“The three countries share two common characteristics, conflict and vulnerability to climate change. This situation is further aggravated by external factors such as the war in Ukraine, global inflation and rising fuel prices,” he notes.
As a net importer of food and fuel, the FAO shows that Ethiopia is particularly affected by high international prices. Food price inflation averaged 40 percent in the first half of 2022.
The start of flooding in 27 Nigerian states in early February 2022 has damaged 450,000 hectares of farmland and seriously affected the 2022 harvest, according to joint FAO-WFP reports. Floods have similarly disrupted agriculture in South Sudan.
Ghanem says these climate shocks have had significant negative impacts on food security in the region, following the 2019-2020 locust plague that affected 1.25 million hectares of land in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Political instability and conflicts in Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia have worsened the situation.
He says food insecurity in the Sahel region — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — has increased by 50 percent compared to 2021. A reflection, he says, of “the sharp increase in political instability and conflict in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and rising prices for food, fuel and fertilizer around the world.
Ghanem calls on political leaders and civil society to address the root causes of conflict and instability, saying solutions include dealing with the social, political and economic exclusion of large sections of the population. He says all people should feel invested in their own country.
Against this background, he advocates pan-African initiatives to boost food production “Africa’s agriculture has the lowest yields in the world. Africa has the lowest percentage of irrigated land and uses the least fertilizer per hectare. The continent also invests the least in research and development.”
In the absence of up-to-date research to develop innovative approaches to address the challenges agriculture faces today, and without the use of quality fertilisers, certified seeds and new and more climate-resilient seed varieties, the continent will struggle, being forced to overcome rising food insecurity.
“Despite these challenges, I am optimistic that pan-African initiatives and joint projects are able to fill these gaps, including the establishment of four or five agricultural research centers on the continent, joint irrigation projects and the establishment of fertilizer manufacturing companies,” he explains.
“Africa imports about 60 percent of all fertilizer use, making it very expensive for our farmers and resulting in low fertilizer use. We already have major fertilizer manufacturers including Dangote in Nigeria and OCP in Morocco. The continent can work with such African fertilizer manufacturers to set up more fertilizer factories on the continent.”
He stresses that Africa is ripe for opportunities for inter-African cooperation and that the continental Africa Free Trade Agreement, signed by all 54 countries on the continent, could accelerate the free movement of goods and services and boost pan-African investment projects.
Ghanem advocates a pan-African approach to tackling food insecurity, saying that alongside open markets and free trade, it would be an opportunity to encourage transnational regional investment in infrastructure, which in turn would improve agricultural productivity and resilience to climate change.
In addition, he sees in such an approach the possibility of founding an African council to coordinate and promote agricultural research and development. Equally important, a pan-African approach could support a facility to ensure vulnerable African countries can finance food imports in times of crisis.
Buoyed by its vast natural resources and human capital, he says a shared vision for Africa will help develop Africa’s breadbasket and create a food-secure future for all. For more information on this topic, see Ghanem’s article here.
Report of the IPS UN office
© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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