Local farmer, Angola 2019. © Mauro Pereira – stock.adobe.com

Food Security in Africa: How Can Food Crises be Avoided in the Long Term?

The world is heading for a famine of unimaginable dimensions – not least because of the war in Ukraine. Africa continues to be the problem child when it comes to food security worldwide. One of the most important responses to the current challenges hails from the continent itself.

The outlook is dramatic: humanity is sliding towards a manifold food crisis which looks set to make the dramatic years 2007-2008 and 2011-2013 pale in comparison. The Covid-19 pandemic increased the number of starving people by about 150 million. The year 2022 is marked by export bottlenecks from Ukraine, which will probably increase this number by another 7 to 19 million – a calculation that does not include looming fertilizer and energy shortages nor any other pending geopolitical upheavals and crises. In any case, the global famine statistics were already bleak: between 2010 and 2019, no fewer than 570 million people – primarily smallholder farmers, but increasingly also urban households – faced food shortages.

The omens are worst for Africa: most countries on the continent are particularly poor, many have only limited capacity to act, and more than 20 percent of the population have too little to eat. The Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) 2022 highlighted a trend towards poorer governance and economic slowdown in all major regions of sub-Saharan Africa. While West and Central Africa was still listed as “poor but democratic” in the BTI 2020, most of the 22 countries surveyed in this region have become autocracies. A total of 17 were ranked as economically weak to rudimentary. A similar picture emerged in South and East Africa, where the report records no positive economic development since 2006, while at the same time the quality of governance has been continually on the wane since 2010.

In addition to immediate measures against the looming hunger crisis, reforms are needed to improve food security in the long term. How this is to be done has been a core question of development debates in and about Africa for decades. But possibly the most important answer comes from the African Union (AU) – and thus from the continent itself.

The political transformation of the food system

The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) was first adopted by the African Union in 2003 and has since been modified and reaffirmed several times. The CAADP aims to transform Africa’s agricultural and food systems. In many African countries, agriculture is the key sector in relation to poverty reduction, food security and economic growth. The goals of the CAADP include ending hunger and halving poverty, massively increasing intra-African trade, including in agricultural goods, as well as improving the resilience of livelihoods and production systems to climate change and other risks. To this end, principles and a whole system of rules, organizations, processes and platforms have been created to anchor and link the CAADP at all levels from local to continental. Particularly noteworthy are the total of 46 indicators designed to measure progress. The two most important and best-known CAADP indicators state that 10 percent of state budgets should be invested in the agri-food sector and that at least 6 percent growth in agricultural production should be achieved.

20 years of the CAADP – what has happened so far?

The last CAADP interim report dates from November 2021 — before the Ukraine war — and it only partially reflects the impact of the corona crisis. It showed that of 51 countries that have reported on the CAADP, only one nation is on track to meet most of the CAADP targets by 2025: Rwanda. The country was the first to fully integrate the CAADP process into national planning and made great strides in, for example, evidence-based policy planning, land titling, women’s empowerment, productivity progress and climate resilience. On the commitment to fight hunger, only one country was also “on track”: Kenya, which made progress especially on productivity, post-harvest losses and social protection. But even trailblazer Rwanda did not achieve all the intermediate targets, and especially not the 10 percent investment target. Four other countries – Egypt, Eswatini, Seychelles and Zambia – have met this. Africa-wide, a steady decline in the share of public expenditure on agriculture has been seen over the last 15 years. Some 19 countries have made (insufficient) progress, and 24 countries have improved compared to previous years. Overall, the report gives the impression that African countries continue to neglect agriculture and food security and fall short of the goals they themselves have set – a finding that other studies confirm. To untangle the reasons for this in detail would take us too long. However, disappointment with the shortcomings in the CAADP’s implementation should not lead to writing off the initiative, but should underscore commitment to it.

Why the CAADP is the right guiding principle despite deficits

There are at least three arguments in favor of a common agricultural strategy such as the CAADP – especially in the light of the looming food crisis.

First, the continent needs a common voice to make its particular situation and perspective heard in world politics. While the discussion around agriculture and food in many parts of the world is dominated by the ecological consequences of intensive farming, debates about factory farming or how to deal with food over-supply, the African problem situation is completely different. This is made clear by interim goals such as the (completely illusory) abolition of the hand hoe by 2025, which was included in the AU’s strategic concept for the socio-economic transformation of the continent. On international podiums, such as at the World Trade Organization or the environmental conventions in which global framework conditions for agriculture are negotiated, the CAADP can serve as a common platform. For example, at the 2021 Food Systems Summit, the AU adopted a unified position based on the CAADP, and it is also frequently cited in the context of international climate negotiations.

Second, a common framework promotes qualitative justification of policy decisions. The CAADP ensures a continuous showcase of achievements organized according to jointly defined criteria, which, in turn, are peer-reviewed by African nations. This creates acceptance and is important, not least given the perception of Western donor countries as being on the outside and patronizing, especially in the case of former colonial powers.

Thirdly, a continent-wide food security Program can enhance agricultural aid within national and international funding logics. Rural areas and their priorities are often neglected at the planning table, as supporting them tends to have a long-term effect and is therefore politically less attractive. Supporting the urban population, on the other hand, is seen as more feasible. However, even with very optimistic assumptions about structural change in sub-Saharan Africa, a large share of future employment and income will have to come from the agricultural and food sector. Targeting support to this sector is therefore paramount.

However, The CAADP would also need some amendment: More weight should be given to the great diversity of the countries; the indicators used so far are not yet target-oriented enough in their generalized nature. It would also be necessary to boost the integration of the CAADP into national policies, also beyond the realm of agricultural policies. This would mean that the CAADP initiatives would have to be approved by national parliaments. Meanwhile, donors would have to be more committed to funding budget support instead of isolated projects.

If these adjustments are made, the African agricultural and food sector can be transformed in the longer term: It can be sustainable, impact poverty, and also build on an existing response from the continent itself.

Translation by Jess Smee

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