Africa6News examines Africa’s food situation, over the years and then proceed to focus on Farmers and players along the food value chain of Africa. How do we achieve food security for the benefit of our people? How has the change in our eating patterns affected our health as a people? Our foodstuffs are now contaminated with pesticides and other harmful chemicals. We seem to also patronize processed foods over organic fresh from the farm produce.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) observes World Food Day each year on 16 October, the day on which the Organization was founded in 1945. 2020 Marks 75 years since the FAO was established to ensure food security and food self-sufficiency throughout the world and to utterly eradicate global famine.

The objectives of World Food Day are to:

  • Encourage attention to agricultural food production and to stimulate national, bilateral, multilateral and non-governmental efforts to this end;
  • Encourage economic and technical cooperation among developing countries;
  • Encourage the participation of rural people, particularly women and the least privileged categories in decisions and activities influencing their living conditions;
  • Heighten public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world;
  • Promote the transfer of technologies to the developing world; and
  • Strengthen international and national solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty and draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development.

The FAO is still a long away from accomplishing its mission after 75 years but the world’s largest humanitarian organization continue to thrive with a world food program that continues to save million of people including women and children in drought affected poor communities, refugee camps and war victims throughout the world but especially in Africa. The organization is positioned to lead the world’s post-coronavirus food security crisis response. Of course, rich countries are also struggling to take care of their people, as the West is the hardest hit by coronavirus in every way possible. Nationalism has received a boost from the social distancing mantra of the new world order. Every nation has a good excuse to close its boarders as many have done throughout 2020. This may just be Africa’s opportunity to get food security once and for all. 

The theme for World Food Day 2020 is “Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together.”

 For its efforts to combat global hunger; for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict affected areas; and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war, the UN World Food Program (WFP) has been awarded the Nobel prize for peace in 2020. The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting global food security. 

Long before the current public health pandemic in 2017, 38 countries globally, including 28 of them in Africa relied on food aid from other countries and humanitarian organizations, according to the FAO of the United Nations.  

These food aid dependent countries in Africa include Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

There is also famine in some other countries in Africa. These are acute food shortages that occur mainly due to drought or armed conflict and famine is the worse form. According to the UN definition (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification), there is a famine if at least;

  • 20% of households suffer from extreme food shortages
  • 30% of the population is acutely malnourished; and 
  •  Two (2) out of every ten thousand (10000) people, or four (4) children, die daily from food shortages.

Going by all this data from the UN, the worse famines that occurred in the last 25 years in the world happened between 2011-2012 in war-torn Somalia. In that famine, 260,000 people – 133000 children under the age of five (5) – starved to death.

Due to drought and extreme poverty, Sub-Saharan Africa has become a chronically hunger stricken basket case for the world. This, according to the United States international humanitarian organization, Save Our Souls (SOS-USA), is because 226.7 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa consume less than 1,800 calories as their daily energy intake – far less than what the people need to live an active and healthy lives. In other words, one in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from hunger. This also means Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the world’s hungry, according to the UN.

Also, due to hunger and malnutrition, Sub-Saharan Africa’s child mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. With malnutrition comes a weakened immune system, leading to diseases like malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea – often killing children. One in nine children die before the age of five (5). In Sierra Leone it is worse than the average where one in every six children die before age five (5).

Of course, Africa should still feed itself and guarantee food self-sufficiency despite conflict and drought. After all, the most fertile soil in the world is still in Africa. However, Africa continues to suffer;

  • Higher population growth in Africa means that Africa constantly has more mouths to feed and yet she produces less and less food every year due to drought, lack of consumer interest in local food and lack of population interest in farming activities.
  • Unfair Trading structures with the rest of the world means that Africa is unable to add much value to its raw materials and therefore gets unfairly low prices for her exports. This earns Africa very meager FOREX to foot her huge food import bill.
  • Debt slavery and public resource mismanagement means that Africa is permanently in deficit and has to spend scarce resources meant for investment in crop research, irrigation and extension services to boost food production to pay for interests in foreign loans from IMF and the World Bank.
  • Debilitating diseases like HIV AIDS, Ebola and other public health pandemics have taken a toll on general food production in Africa, with lots of resources diverted to public health rather than food production. 

Food Value Chain In Africa

Food crop and livestock farming in Africa is still largely in the hands of peasants. Commercial farming is mostly concentrated on so-called cash crops solely meant for export and most of them are exported without adding value especially, traditional export crops. For example, most chocolate products are made in the Western countries and exported to the rest of the world though the cocoa beans originate from Africa. Africans therefore, tend to eat chocolate products made from Africa’s cocoa beans but imported from the West. This is a classic example of how the major players in the food value chain in Africa are actually foreign players. The peasants are incapable of reaching the wider commercial market themselves and have to rely on middlemen, market women and retailers who buy at cut throat prices and make super normal profits in the cities and urban centers with very minimal value addition.  

Africa, Corona Virus & Food Security

The world is in a state of new normal where every nation is taking matters into their own hands in the face of a ravaging global public health pandemic – coronavirus pandemic. The global economy has received battering and global recession is underway – undoubtedly. 

Africa may have been the least hit by the coronavirus in terms of number of infections and deaths. However, in terms of the global economic fallouts and the consequences for global food security, an over dependent Africa may be the hardest hit. As at 2019, Africa spent 35 billion dollars annually on food imports to feed its population, according the African development bank. This means that Africa’s present-future food security is under threat with global food production levels falling with epic footprints. Most of the world went into lockdown to fight Corona Virus and global production slowed drastically with food production being the worse affected. The world as a whole must brace itself for food crisis and higher food prices.

 Africa’s peasant farmers may not be able to export Africa’s nutritious food to the world, but Africa’s populations can feed themselves and guarantee food security if there is a concerted plan to consume home grown food. Africa’s eating habit is a major part of why Africa suffers from food insecurity. Africans don’t appreciate African food. Africans spend their African money to buy foreign foods in foreign owned super markets in Africa. It is time for all Africans – urban and rural dwellers, to get back to their backyard gardens and begin to grow their own healthy organic foods, rear their own livestock and plant their own crops without the use of harmful chemicals and genetic modification. 

Most of sub-Saharan Africa is still largely dependent on natural rainfall for its farming and food production. Irrigation was embraced in the 1970’s to sustain all year round food crop and livestock farming. Most African countries have failed to sustain investments in irrigation farming especially after many were forced by the World Bank And IMF under so-called structural adjustment programs to deregulate economies and privatize many state enterprises in Agricultural services and other sectors. Such large-scale irrigation projects across Africa enabled ambitious home-grown policies such as ‘’Operation Feed Yourself’’ in Ghana under the regime of Gen. Acheampong Military. Africa ought to go back to feed herself now that no one else is in the position to feed them because every nation on earth is thinking about how to save their populations. It is the age of rising nationalism. In growing our own food, we must avoid the chemical fertilizers that have been proven to be a source of all manner of diseases emanating from eating such chemically induced food crops. 

Western popular culture has deceived Africa’s young population that it is backwards to engage in subsistence farming in Africa to feed ourselves with healthy, organic nutritious food and that it only leads to subsistence living. Rather, they promote the ‘fancy lifestyle’ of getting your food from drive through restaurants with imported recipes and menus.  It is better for Africa and Africans to enjoy subsistence quality living on organic food grown in the natural environment of Africa. At the very least, it guarantees food security in Africa. Even if subsistence farming in Africa cannot feed the world, it will give Africa better food security than relying on other continents or multinationals to feed Africa with poisonous genetically modified foods. It is time for Africa to nationalize its food production as a human security issue. National security of African countries must focus on human security. The biggest human security issue is food security.

“The world economy is in recession and the Sub-Saharan African region is not spared.  At the same time the Fishmeal and Fish Oil industry is thriving, using local fish stocks to produce food for pets, pigs and fish in the aquaculture industry around Europe and Asia at the expense of vulnerable populations in West Africa. West African governments must work together to shut down these factories for good,” Dr Aliou Ba, political advisor for ocean campaign at Greenpeace Africa stated in a report entitled ‘’Seasick: as COVID-19 locks down West Africa, its waters remain open to plunder”. 

The Greenpece report is based on observations of fishing vessels and FMFO factories in Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania between March – July 2020, during the same period West African countries went into COVID-19 Pandemic lockdown.

Mor Mbengue, Senegalese activist and member of Platform of Artisanal Players of Senegal’s Fisheries, PAPAS argue that “Allowing the continued operation of fishmeal factories during the lockdown is really a problem because it impacts the supply of fish for local people and creates unfair competition between factories and female fish processors, who are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions’’.

Fatou Samba, a woman processor, leader and activist in Bargny, a fishing community in the suburb of Dakar. This year, on March 8th, Greenpeace Africa’s ocean team will raise the voice of local women processors struggling for their livelihoods in a fish processing sector that is gradually becoming challenging with the increasing installation of fishmeal factories in local fishing communities. Greenpeace Africa showcased and highlighted the central role these women play in their community where they are almost exposed to all kinds of environmental threats from coastal erosion, coal plants, concrete plants pollution, to the presence of mineral port.

Greenpeace is right in its prognosis of the problem of the ocean plunder in the face of looming food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also right to conclude in its report by demanding the immediate closure of all fishmeal factories operating in West Africa – if we are to mitigate the effects of an imminent food crisis. 

Climate Change, Drought Resistance, GMOs

The existential threat of climate change on the global ecosystem is becoming apparent despite the powerful global voices joining the chorus of climate change deniers. For Africa, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, the very livelihood of the masses, their food security is totally and utterly dependent on the natural climate – rainfall. Increasingly, there is less rainfall and more fires. The long and increasing drought in Africa continue to affect crop yields in rural and sub-urban Africa and has caused Africa’s food import bill to skyrocket.  Africa is producing less and less food to feed itself for many reasons although Africa has the most fertile land on Earth. 

There are still many unanswered questions from the scientists about the role of genetically modified foods in spreading all kinds of diseases including cancer, birth defects, infertility, biochemical disorders etc.

Producers of genetically modified seeds such as Monsanto have argued that GM seeds are a progressive and pre-emptive solution to the problem of droughts and low food yields that are causing food insecurity and extreme famine in many parts of the world. 

Many have argued that drought resistant GMO seeds will only enrich the Agro chemical multinationals like Monsanto or Bayer but keep the world and Africa beholden to these profit motivated interests. For example, if Africa does not take urgent steps to keep, grow and sustain her own nutritional seeds and foods, she and her people will loose what they have and in the future, Africa and her people may rely on foreign multinationals for the so-called drought resistant seed of all food crops. That will be a disaster in epic proportions. Africa’s food security and by extension human security could, in a few years, be in the hands of foreign multinationals – unless African leaders and their people reject Western GMO seeds and Western foods and embrace home-grown food.

With a public health pandemic currently ravaging Europe, America, India, Russia, Brazil etc. it is time for Africa to focus on the basic and most important task of growing her own organic food, feed and nourish her people and feed the rest of the industrial but polluted world. Yes, climate change is causing drought and reducing food yields in Africa but Africa is consuming more and more of foreign junk and GM foods. However, Africa must wake up and realize that the food and human security of her people is at stake in the present-future and do something urgently about this imminent danger. 

Restoring Degraded Lands By Reforestation – The Great Green Wall

Sub-Sahara Africa’s efforts at mitigating the effects of climate change and the advancing Sahara desert gave birth to the idea of the Great Green Wall (GGW). The GGW is an African led project and the ambition is epic: To grow 8000 km line of plants and trees across the entire African continent to restore the degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in the Sahel. The goal is to provide food, jobs and a future for the millions of people on the continent who live on the frontline of climate change. The GGW will be the largest man made structure on Earth and a new wonder of the world, when completed. 

The project charges participating countries to produce topsoil, cultivate plants for food, herbs, medicines and plant trees to enhance the quality of life and to create a healthy environment in dry and barren regions of Africa. It is meant to re-cultivate, re-vegetate and re-forestate Africa but planting trees in the Sahel, the arid savanna on the south border of the Sahara desert is not an easy task. The government and environmental organizations must continue to support and encourage the building of the GGW in every household and every farm in Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s population must personalize the Great Green Wall if the project is to succeed and serve its purpose.

 Food Policies & African Elections

It is surprising but not shocking that food security policies are not the most debated issues as many African countries head into elections in the next couple of months. Considering the clear and present danger the populations of Africa face regarding food security and food self-sufficiency in the present-future, the electorate as well as the African leaders and aspiring leaders must focus election campaign manifestoes and debates on matters of solid food security policies that will ensure that Africa averts a coronavirus and climate change induced famine. 

The fact that the African electorate and civil society are barely asking questions about food policies; and the leaders and aspiring leaders are barely highlighting the urgency of food policies is an indication that Africa does not yet fully appreciate the enormous threat of food insecurity it faces in the coming months as the world struggles to find a coronavirus vaccine.

Agricultural extension services as well as irrigation development must be revamped in national policies. Now is the time! Africa cannot sit by and allow its healthy and organic food produce to perish on the farms because of lack of storage and preservation facilities or inaccessible routes to the market or lack of value addition through processing and packaging. Africa cannot afford to waste her buffer food stock as the world closes out on each other with each nation taking matters into their own independent hands.

Africa must rise to the occasion and feed itself. For as Thomas Sankara, former leader of Burkina-Faso once said, ‘’We must learn to live the African way. It is the only way to live in freedom and in dignity’’.

By: Sacut Amenga-Etego