By Seyyada Burney
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has released its first-ever Human Development Report focused exclusively on Africa. The report, Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future, argues that establishing food security must become a top priority among governments to achieve sustainable human development in Africa.
The Africa Human Development Report is the first UNDP Human Development report to focus exclusively on Africa. (Image credit: UNDP)
Despite a wealth of natural resources and recent economic progress, sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food-insecure region. According to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, “the specter of famine, all but gone elsewhere, continues to haunt millions in the region.” Report statistics reveal that even though GNP per capita was as high as $17,000 in countries such as Equitorial Guinea in 2011, gross economic disparities persist within sub-Saharan Africa — approximately one in four people still suffer from undernourishment. But, says Tegegnework Gettu, Assistant Secretary-General and Regional Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau of Africa, “Africa has the knowledge, the technology, and the means to end hunger and food insecurity.”
The report outlines four multidimensional strategies through which food security can be achieved:
1) Increasing and maintaining agricultural productivity.
With the population of sub-Saharan Africa projected to reach 2 billion by 2050, there is a dire need to improve access to and availability of food for current and future generations. Many previous development efforts have been held back by urban biases against the agricultural sector and rural populations. A realignment of government budget priorities towards improving efficiency, transportation infrastructure, and access to capital, markets, and insurance in the agricultural sector will improve availability and management of food, as well as improving access.
2) Reducing Malnutrition:
Malnutrition remains a pervasive and insidious challenge to sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa, affecting physical and mental development in children and reducing female education and workforce participation. Chronic malnutrition can be addressed through relatively cost-effective nutrition intervention strategies such as bio-fortification (breeding nutrients into crops) and female empowerment. Many programs that aim to empower women are improving nutrition among women and children in addition to promoting economic progress and agricultural productivity.
3) Building resilience to shocks.
Civil unrest, drought, famine, and market failures continue to inflict both immediate and longterm damage upon the poorest households and individuals in sub-Saharan Africa. Rapid population growth and demographic changes also continue to strain communities and institutions. According to the report, “linking social protection to measures that enhance farmers’ access to technology, stabilize rural markets and commodity prices, and build up rural infrastructure can make farmers, households, and markets more resilient to shocks.”
4) Empowerment and social justice.
“Building a food-secure continent requires transformative change—change that will be most effective if accompanied by a shift of resources, capacities, and decisions to smallholder farmers, poor communities, and women,” according to the report. Increasing knowledge, organization, and communication among everyone involved in food production, including farmers, transporters, and customers will reduce transaction times and costs as well as increase income and collective bargaining power. Locally determined solutions that aim to overcome urban and gender biases are both cost-effective and sustainable because they give voice to the opinions, concerns, and contributions of impoverished and marginalized communities.
Each of these strategies promotes the UNDP’s central ethos of putting people at the center of development policies and practices. “The right to food—and the right to life itself” stands as the core principle of the African Human Development Report. It urges policymakers and institutions alike to critically analyze issues of access and inequality underlying food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa. It also recognizes that tackling such a complex challenge to human development will require cooperation across multiple disciplines and sectors, including governments, organizations, and, of course, individual farmers and their communities. The report concludes, “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.”
Click here to read the full report.
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To read more about innovative schemes to increase food security, read: Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods, PBS Reports on One Acre Fund, and Innovation of the Week: Fertilizer Tree Systems enrich soil naturally.
Seyyada Burney is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.