Food Security Remains a Top Priority for African Development

23/08/2012
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Food security remains an important development issue for Africa, with many countries facing high food costs and periodic food shortages due to climate change, humanitarian crises, conflict, displaced populations, poor agricultural practices and a high dependency on imported food stuffs. For this reason, food security remains a top priority on the continent’s development agenda, as outlined in the quarterly Africa Food Security Brief published recently by the Chief Economist Complex of the African Development Bank.

For the first half of 2012 the food security situation on the continent was overshadowed by a food and humanitarian crisis in the Sahel region brought on by drought. This came on the heels of the famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011, when 12 million people required humanitarian assistance. While famine conditions no longer exist in Somalia, nearly one-third of the population is still unable to fully meet essential food and non-food needs. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), a drop in cereal production, combined with high food prices and civil strife, has led to increased malnutrition in several countries in West and Central Africa, where some 13 million are believed to be at risk if further action is not taken, including more than 1 million children. The escalation of armed conflict in Mali has resulted in an increase in displaced persons and a severe disruption of commodity movements, worsening the food security situation there. Desert locusts pose a further threat to agricultural production in the Sahel, particularly in Niger, Mali and Chad, while civil strife in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo have caused a surge of displaced people, both internally and across borders. In short, the FAO estimates that 28 of the 35 countries requiring external assistance for food are in Africa.

The African continent is faced with rapid urban expansion and the fastest growing population in the world; however, rural productivity is among the lowest in the developing world. Food security depends on functioning regional transportation networks, efficient pricing mechanisms, regional marketing and distribution networks, and sound logistics. To this end, regional infrastructure development can play a key role in improving food security in Africa, the AfDB brief asserts.

Policymakers should focus on financing and strengthening infrastructure networks that facilitate regional and international trade, and establishing food security corridors. Food is the basis of human development; therefore sustainable food security should be seen as a survival imperative.