Tegegnework Gettu is Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director of our Regional Bureau for Africa.
22 May 2012
It is a harsh paradox that sub-Saharan Africa, a continent blessed with ample agricultural endowments, still faces hunger and malnutrition.
Adding to that paradox is the fact that the region’s high rates of economic growth in recent years – some of the fastest in the world – and improvements in life expectancy and schooling have not led to commensurate improvements in food security.
More than one in four Africans – nearly 218 million – remain undernourished and more than 40% of children under five – almost 55 million in total -- are malnourished.
The spectre of famine, all but gone elsewhere, continues to haunt millions in the region. Yet another famine occurred in Somalia in 2011, and the Sahel is again at risk in 2012.
Chronic food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa stems from decades of underinvestment in the countryside, where infrastructure has deteriorated, farming has languished, gender and other inequalities have deepened and food systems have stagnated.
Smallholder farmers, on whose shoulders the recovery of its agriculture rests, have long been pinned between a rock and hard place.
Erratic weather patterns and seasonal food price variations, coupled with new threats from population growth, environmental pressures and climate change, have only made matters worse.
But history is not destiny. Africans are not fated to starve. Provided governments, armed with political will and dedication, move decisively to make food accessible and affordable for all, the continent can unleash a virtuous circle of higher human development and enhanced food security.
That is the central argument of the United Nations Development Programme’s Africa Human Development Report: Towards a Food Secure Future, launched in Nairobi today.
Action focused on agriculture alone will not end food insecurity. While Africa will need to produce substantially more food, coordinated interventions across multiple sectors are required.
These include rural infrastructure, health services, new forms of social protection and empowerment of local communities.
Sub-Saharan Africa can extricate itself from pervasive food insecurity by enhancing agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers; putting in place more effective nutrition policies, especially for children; helping communities and households to cope with shocks; and promoting wider popular participation and empowerment, especially of women and the rural poor.
The challenge is large, the time frame is tight and the investment required is significant, but the potential gains for human development in the region are immense.
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