This background note was presented at the High Level Panel on "G7 & Africa" held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rome, 5 May 2017.
What does food security mean for Africa today?
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development commits the international community to meeting and surmounting crucial challenges – economic, social and environmental. Agriculture is central in these efforts. Through its connections with food security and nutrition, health, employment, rural development and the environment, agriculture contributes towards many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Sub-Saharan Africa is called to face all those challenges. Its agriculture has to increase production of nutritious food to meet growing demand and ensure food security for 2.2 billion people by 2050 and possibly as many as 4 billion by 2100. It has to generate jobs, improve incomes and contribute to poverty eradication and rural economic growth. It should adapt to climate change and play a major role in the sustainable management of natural resources in the region.
In 2014-16, about one in every four people in sub-Saharan Africa was undernourished. This is the highest prevalence of undernourishment for any region – 23.2 percent of the population – and, with about 220 million hungry people, the second highest burden in absolute terms. Since 2015, the region has experienced severe climate-induced disruptions and there is growing evidence that climate change will have a marked impact on agricultural production in the region.
Today, drought has added to the impact of protracted conflict, bringing millions of people to the brink of famine in Somalia, South Sudan and North-Eastern Nigeria. In some countries, poverty, food insecurity, and lack of decent employment, but also natural disasters fuel distress-driven migration. Other countries have performed very well. For example, since the 1990s Ghana has experienced high per capita economic growth rates and the proportion of the population experiencing chronic hunger declined from 47.3 percent in 1990–92 to less than 5 percent in 2012–14. Agriculture has played a significant role in Ghana’s growth.
What are the key dimensions and the actors involved?
The situation in sub-Saharan Africa illustrates the multifaceted nature of food security and nutrition, and suggests that different dimensions require different approaches to achieve zero hunger. Economic growth is necessary for alleviating poverty and reducing hunger and malnutrition; it is critical to increase employment and incomes sustainably. But not all types of growth are effective. Very poor people cannot participate in growth processes that require capital or generate employment for the educated and skilled. It is inclusive economic growth benefits the poor and improves their incomes.
Agriculture can become an avenue through which the poor participate in the growth process. Agricultural growth in low-income countries is three times more effective in reducing extreme poverty, compared with growth in other sectors. And in sub-Saharan Africa, it can be 11 times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in non-agricultural sectors. For example, investments and policies that promote increased agricultural labour productivity lead to increases in rural income which in turn can strengthen demand for goods and services in rural areas, leading to non-farm job creation, higher unskilled labour wages, improved food security, better nutrition and growth.
In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is characterized by small family farms and labour productivity is low. In the early 1990s, average value added per worker in agriculture was lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, at approximately US$700 – in Eastern Asia, it amounted to US$4,600. By 2010–13, average value added per worker in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa amounted to US$1,199, whereas in Eastern Asia it had risen to US$15,300. Increasing farm productivity means higher farm incomes.
Improvements in Research & Development will be crucial in driving sustainable productivity growth in the region. The private sector plays an important role, but will typically orient its innovations towards high value and market-oriented production systems. The CGIAR system (Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, a global research partnership for a food-secure future) continues to hold immense promise to respond to the challenge of improving small family farm productivity, with specific attention to adaptation to climate change. Few smallholders in Africa use innovative technologies. Most either have no access to them, or perceive them as risky. Policies should provide incentives for the adoption of such innovative and sustainable agricultural intensification practices. Well-designed extension services, market-smart input subsidies, and input starter-pack programmes can facilitate technology adoption by smallholders to produce more outputs from the same area of land while reducing negative environmental impacts.
Markets are important for promoting food security and nutrition. They are not only a mechanism to generate incomes but also one that allows choice – buying and selling are transactions that can shape livelihoods and make them thrive. Yet, few sub-Sahara African farmers have access to markets. In Kenya, smallholders sell only a quarter of their produce through markets. They also face constraints in accessing inputs, such as seed and fertilizer, credit to facilitate investment, and insurance to hedge risks. Poor transport infrastructure, the small size of farms and their geographical dispersion makes trade costly. Women farmers face even greater disadvantages than their male counterparts.
Improving access to markets can also help boost productivity and employment. Inclusive market models can integrate smallholders into value chains. Public sector procurement mechanisms, public-private partnerships and collective actions, community-supported initiatives and market mechanisms, often supported by digital technologies, bring out business innovations and can link farmers to consumers, input, credit and insurance markets.
Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa hold significant potential to promote food security and development. But in the future, climate change will affect every aspect of food production in the region. Agricultural trade can be part of adaptation strategies, ensuring food security. Sustainable agricultural production intensification technologies, such as climate-smart agriculture, are knowledge-intensive. Building human capital is vital. Farmers’ knowledge, skills, and health directly influence agricultural productivity. And it is not only farming skills that are necessary but also business competencies that sharpen farmers’ ability to adapt their practices to new situations or changing markets. Social protection mechanisms have a strong focus on food security, health, nutritional and educational targets, but can also play a critical role in enabling the transition to sustainable intensification, helping households with limited access to financial services for investment and risk mitigation.
How is the future scenario of food security in Africa most likely to evolve?
Should the population projections for sub-Saharan Africa materialize, the increases could seriously jeopardize the development prospects of many countries in the region. Current investment patterns and spending on social protection will not suffice to eradicate poverty and hunger. To end hunger in the region by 2030, additional investment should amount to US$195 billion per year. This
amount includes investments in pro-poor productive capacities (US$168 billion) such as improving primary agriculture, processing operations, infrastructure, R&D, and institutions. About US$27 billion per year will be needed for social protection to improve access of the vulnerable to food .
How should the International Community and Africa engage in a shared dialogue on food security?
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda recognize that the financing needs to achieve the SDGs will likely be vast. Many of the investments in agriculture will be made by private agents and the farmers themselves. Governments and the international community should support and play a catalytic role in providing public goods and securing property and tenure rights. Well-functioning institutions, rural transport, R&D, health and education are fundamental.
Together with Official Development Assistance flows, new sources of development financing should emerge based on collaboration among governments, civil society, private sector, and the scientific community. Aligning private sector incentives with public goals can foster long-term quality investment. The innovative financing models created to fight HIV, malaria and tuberculosis can inspire similar initiatives for agricultural development and serve as a basis for harnessing the potential of all investors.
George Rapsomanikis, Senior Economist, FAO-Food Agriculture Organisation
 FAO (2015). Achieving Zero Hunger: The Critical Role of Investments in Social Protection and Agriculture.