The Great Debate on Food Security in Africa Kicks off in Nairobi

Food security concerns in Africa are major and require innovative solutions. Africa food Security Conference 9th to 10th September 2014 at Laico Regency

Food security concerns in Africa are major and require innovative solutions.

R. M. Ochanda
Africa food Security Conference 9th to 10th September 2014 at Laico Regency

The Africa Food Security Conference (AFSC) organized by Aidembs Business Solutions (ABS) among other partners such as Monsanto, ACT and AECF kicked off today at the Laico Regency and will go on for two days (9th and 10th September 2014). Much of the discussion at the conference was centered around climate change, knowledge systems, productivity, resilience, value chains and ecological integrity. Speaker after speaker was responding to the challenge posed by the conference “can Africa feed Africa?” The answer provided by a UNEP representatiove seemed to be that there is hope that this can be achievable through African reinassance in agriculture. Additionally cross cutting and innovative measures need to be instituted by the state, market and communities. This should be done in tandem with responding to the question “why is Africa poor while it has most of the coveted world resources ?”

According to ASARECA, Africa is underperforming. The food production growth rate is not able to match the population growth rate. All member countries of the East African Community among a great proportion of the Sub Saharan Countries are classified being food insecure. The current situation should not be allowed to persist as it will render the future of Africa bleak. Credible estimates project that the continent will only be able to feed 13% of its population by 2050. Additionally 45% of African children are malnourished and this situation could cause a loss of 16% of the continent’s GDP. There is however need to believe that the current African situation is not a lost cause despite the fact that the entire continent is a net food importer and suffers from food insecurity. It is important however that something has to be done to place Africa in the same pedestal with the rest of the world. An example is given of China whose agricultural production just like Africa is dominated by small holder farmers yet it reached sustainability and it is a net exporter of food.

In order to avert the food crisis in Africa the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) initiated the Comprehensive African Agricultural Programme (CAADP) that sought to aggressively address questions of agriculture development, food security and rural development. The thematic thrusts of CAADP were reliable land management and water control systems, market access for rural farmers through appropriate investments, increasing smallholder productivity, improving agricultural research and disemination systems. The move by the African Union has encouraged a health confrontation between bio-technology and organic agriculture discourses in the perspective of food security. Various institutions also did arise to address issues of agro-technology, policy improvement, capacity development and information and communication access.

An important part of the food security discussion initiated by Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support Systems (ReSSAKSS) focused on the Regional Economic Communities (RECSs) intra-industry trade. The study focused at both formal and informal trade along the borders. The study found enough problems with available data. First there is no credible panel data that could be used comfortably while even the cross sectional data available had integrity problems. This was partly blamed due to the fact that there is a high rate of staff turnover and lack of proper transitions within government departments. Secondly country based statistics on flow of trade had problems at various points, with great anomalies in terms of data discrepancies manifesting themselves between statistical bodies and the border customs. Data at the level of Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) was found to be more correct than country based or regional data.

Despite data issues it was found that there was a booming intra-regional trade both formal and informal. One reason for this was the fact that there were different harvest periods for crops within the region facilitating ease of trade during times of harvest in one region and lack in others. Secondly it was found that over the years the informal trade was reducing in size while the formal was increasing. Two reasons could explain this one being that some of the innformal players had formalized their operations or that there was a crowding out of the informal by the formal players. What drives the volume of intra-regional trade in these countries id the differences in weather pattens, govenment policies and presence or absence of political tensions. The main challenges hampering intra-regional trade include non tariff barriers (NTB’s), police road blocks, so much documentation, poor infrastructure annd security. The existence of the regional trade could help alot in enhancing food security.

Lastly, food security required a concerted effort by all partners. It needs to bring together the public sector, corporates, farming communities and civil society. The different sectors to this partnership have unique motivations prompting them to look at the food security through different lenses. The government on one hand would look at the debate from being a facilitator, the corporate sector will bring an commercial orientation, the civil society will bring in a capacity building component while farming communities would bring in the contraints holding them from being able to produce enough. Each of these partners would come with tools and resources to enrich the entire food security initiative.

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