The SADC Regional Climate Outlook Forum and the UN World Food Programme this week delivered news that should make us all pause, reflect and urgently chart a viable way forward.
The Climate Outlook Forum says much of the region will have normal to above normal rains. That’s not the cause for worry. The Forum also says despite this, huge swathes of Southern Africa will have inadequate rain.
Compounding matters, the region could soon be home to the first case of a climate change-induced famine. This is according to the World Food Programme, which says Madagascar’s worst drought in 40 years is going to cause widespread hunger in the absence of an international effort to assist the country.
The SADC Secretariat says in all, the region could be home to 47.6 million food insecure people by the time of the next harvest, which is a 5.5 percent increase on last year and 34.3 percent above the five-year average.
Furthermore, one-third of the children in Southern Africa – that’s a full 19 million young people – have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
These are just some of the grim statistics that characterise the situation on an African continent on which there are around 300 million grossly food insecure people. We are talking here of people who often average one or zero meals per day.
We are told that of all the regions of the world that are classified as “developing”, Africa is the only one that over the past 20 years has experienced an increase in food insecurity. This means that whatever development has resulted in us being classified as “developing” has not reached the basic area of food security.
But at the same time Africa is home to around 30 percent of the world’s arable land.
So we have all this land available, enough to feed the world if we were serious about it, and yet we are starving!
Not only that, according to the African Union Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment, Ambassador Josefa Sacko says in 2020, the countries on our continent spent at least US$80 billion on food imports from other continents.
And she estimates that instead of Africa upping its game, the food import bill is growing at a rate of six percent every year.
The strange thing about all of this is that African leaders and the private sector are well aware of these statistics and often spout them at conferences, symposiums and rallies – without subsequently doing anything meaningful about it.
In 2003, continental leaders meeting in Mozambique adopted what has come to be known as the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security. That declaration in turn spawned the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which is supposed to be implemented at AU level.
A key aspects of the Maputo Declaration is that African governments committed to set aside at least 10 percent of their annual national budgets every year to agriculture, food security and related areas.
The aim was to grow the continental agri-economy by six percent every year on the back of such a targeted investment. Instead, it is the food import bill that has grown six percent per annum because we have chosen not to meet our Maputo Declaration and CAADP commitments!
But because we love drafting high sounding nothings and publicly making pledges that make us look good in the media, Africa’s leaders in 2014 came up with the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.
In addition to reaffirming the commitments made under the Maputo Declaration, the Malabo Declaration imposed specific obligations on the need for increased investment in irrigation, mechanisation and reducing post-harvest losses.
Seven years later, we are spending close to US$100 billion on food imports.
The AU Development Agency and NEPAD say that not one African country is presently directing 10 percent of its national budget to agriculture; and where spending has indeed increased, it has done so in an ineffective manner that prioritises enlarging the area under cultivation in highly inefficient ways.
Africa needs to invest in greater commercialisation of production processes, which by necessity means more investment in best practices, irrigation and mechanisation. More must be done to incorporate subsistence farmers, who constitute the majority of Africa’s farmers, in value chains that foster food security and sustainable rural development.
As we have noted before in The Southern Times, African citizens must hold their governments to account over this very basic human right called the right to food. Parliamentarians and citizen representative groups should focus less on mindless politics and instead take executives to task on how far they have gone in meeting commitments made in Maputo in 2003 and in Malabo in 2013.
We need to see Government spending being properly planned and accounted for, so that it is steered towards productive sectors.
That is not all.
There is need for greater private sector participation in agriculture in a manner that improves food security rather than in the single-minded pursuit of unsustainable profits.