Climate and conflicts: Will Africa’s food insecurity get worse?

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Monday, 19 September 2022 12:56

Chef Elijah Amoo Addo, and transport manager Ali Samed, 39, of Food For All Africa review stock information at a satellite warehouse in Offinso, Ghana June 7, 2022. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

From the war in Ukraine, conflicts in the Horn of Africa, to low intra-continental trade and a rise in prices of agriculture inputs, food insufficiency on the continent is on the rise, say experts. These factors will continue to be key determinants in Africa’s food security matrix in the coming months.

An estimated 346 million people in Africa are said to be experiencing food shortages, according to reports by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the African Union (AU) released early this year. Another 190 million people, most of them in Ethiopia, Madagascar and South Sudan are said to be in acute food crisis, another FAO report says.

Though it’s difficult to get a clear picture of the state of food insecurity on the continent due to data scarcity, Daniel Njiwa, head of regional food trade and resilience at Alliance for Green Revolution Africa (AGRA) tells The Africa Report that some areas in Kenya, Niger, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique are food insecure. Countries with food surpluses include Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria. However, Nigeria and Uganda, according to Njiwa, are on hunger hotspot countries because of climate effects and conflicts.

Another metric of ascertaining Africa’s food security is by looking at the continent’s food stockpile, Amandla Ooko-Ombaka, an associate partner at McKinsey, specialising in Africa agriculture tells The Africa Report. Countries, such as Egypt, have stockpiles of essential goods that can last for about nine months while in East Africa, stockpiles can barely feed populations for two months. “That gives you a sense of how much buffer we have now,” she says.

Ooko-Ombaka says the number of food insecure people on the continent is likely “to go up due to the Russia invasion of Ukraine due to the less expected rainfall and due to the ongoing drought”.

Giving a long term trajectory, Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, executive director of West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), who won the 2022 Africa Food Prize, says in an interview that “all of Africa is doing poorly” when it comes to food security. The situation will not be sustainable in a continent with a heavy food import bill given that the continent’s population is projected to grow by 300 million people by 2030, he tells The Africa Report.

Yemi Akinbamijo, executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, also paints a gloomy picture in an interview, saying Africa has “not moved much” – since the start of the millennium – in terms of food security and eradicating poverty. In order not to lose three decades of the UN’s millennium development goals and sustainable development goals, which, among others, have focused on ending hunger, he says: “I don’t know what miracle we do to shift this needle.”

Food prices: no good news

Daniel Njiwa, head of regional food trade at the Alliance for A Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), says food prices are another indicator that can give a hint on the state of food security. In the past six months, prices of food have been higher compared to those at the height of the pandemic and even those experienced during the food crisis of 2008, he says.

“In the last three months, there has been a slight drop in prices, but it’s high, higher than [the] same time last year. For instance, we are now in September, the prices we are seeing for major staples today are still higher than average prices for last year,” he tells The Africa Report.

Doubling of fertiliser prices is a warning of a dire situation ahead given that they are a critical ingredient for food production. Higher prices mean a significant drop in the use of fertilisers in the next production cycle, he warns.

Njiwa says some of the studies are predicting a 30%-40% drop in fertiliser usage. “If you punch those numbers into the expected yields, you find that the impact is going to be quite big because we expect a significant drop in yield and production,” he says.

It’s going to enhance the process of decision making by [the] government; it’s going to enhance efficiency by [the] private sector who are able to use this data to make investment around trade, around production.

Food balance sheet…logistical challenges

Lack of information on countries that have food surpluses on the continent is a problem, experts said during the Alliance for Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which was held in Kigali recently. AGRF has come up with a novel approach to solve the problem: Launch a regional food balance sheet. It’s a pilot initiative for six countries that will provide information on food surpluses and deficits. The countries involved are Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.

With the platform being digital, Njiwa tells The Africa Report that any stakeholders – private sector or government – are able to upload information on a real time basis. “If you’re an authorised data contributor, you’re able to know what the status is on stock availability,” he says.

“It’s going to enhance the process of decision making by [the] government, it’s going to enhance efficiency by [the] private sector who are able to use this data to make investment around trade, around production,” he says.

Such a food balance sheet can be a game changer if someone knows that 32 kilometres from the border there is food, they will be quick to go and buy. However, a key impediment remains: Low intra-continent trade. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says intra Africa trade is less than 20%, with Asia and Europe remaining as the main trade partners of the continent.

To promote intra trade, Ooko-Ombaka says African states should be working to eradicate logistical challenges that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) can’t solve. “These challenges are about the road, the ports being cleared,” she says, adding that moving goods through ports in East Africa is a big challenge.

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