Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest prevalence of hunger in the world. Until this situation improves, the human development prospects of millions of Africans will remain at risk. UNDP’s first Africa Human Development Report shows that food security and human development reinforce each other.
If African countries are to realize their long-term potential, the report says, they must boost agricultural productivity to both improve the availability of food and reduce poverty. Policies to enhance nutrition are central to ensuring that access to food translates into human development. The report argues further that local populations must have the resources and decision-making power to produce and consume nutritious food throughout the year, overcoming the risks represented by continuing conflict, climate change and variations in food prices.
These drivers of change, by ending the ravages of hunger and malnourishment, will nurture capabilities and conditions for human development. A well-nourished and empowered population, in turn, is more likely to seek education, participate in society and expand its productive and human potential. With the right policies and institutions Africa can sustain this virtuous cycle of higher human development and enhanced food security.
For too long the face of sub-Saharan Africa has been one of dehumanizing hunger. If African countries are to realize their potential, they will need to overcome the undernourishment that afflicts more than a quarter of their people.
Food security can be defined as “[the condition] when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food [to meet] their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”It thus encompasses the availability of food, people’s access to food and their use of food, as well as the stability of all three components. This definition includes the qualitative dimensions of safety and nutrition, linking food security to people’s energy, protein and nutrient needs for life, activity, pregnancy and growth.7 It also points to a horizon beyond food security, the potential for a full and active life.
Food security is a precondition for sustained human development, but neither goal can be met through economic growth alone. The character of growth matters as well. For growth to be effective, agricultural productivity and nutrition policies need to improve. Because food security for human development requires that individuals be the subjects and agents of their own well-being, these policies must be leveraged through actions that build resilience and empower people, especially women.
Africa still trails the world in human development, but the quickening pace of change and the new economic vitality on the continent offer grounds for renewed, if guarded, optimism.
Sub-Saharan Africa is rich in land and water resources, yet hunger and starvation are widespread. This contradiction stems less from the continental availability of food and more from glaringly uneven local production and access and chronically deficient nutrition, especially among the poorest.
Undermining the interrelated components of food security (availability, access and use) are unstable food systems in a region vulnerable to the effects of erratic weather, volatile food prices, and conflict and violence. Measured by agricultural production, food availability has gradually improved, but agricultural productivity remains low— much lower than in other regions. Most sub-Saharan African countries are net food importers, and many depend on food aid during all too frequent humanitarian crises. Even where food is available, millions cannot afford it or cannot acquire it because of underdeveloped markets and weak physical infrastructure.
But food security goes beyond availability and access. Proper use of food determines whether food security sustains human development. Insufficient access to safe water, energy and sanitation conspires with diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria to perpetuate food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa.
Misguided policies, weak institutions and failing markets are the roots of sub-Saharan Africa’s food insecurity.
Their influence is clearest at the household and community levels, where unequal power relations trap vulnerable people—subsistence farmers, the landless poor, many women and children— in a vicious cycle of deprivation, food insecurity and low human development. For decades the policies of national governments and international institutions neglected sub-Saharan Africa’s rural and agricultural development.
Their damaging legacies include ineffective postcolonial industrialization plans that soaked up development resources, leaving agriculture a second-tier priority with little localized crop science and technology appropriate for poor farmers; structural adjustment programmes that aimed to close budget gaps but created large human development deficits, especially among the vulnerable poor; and skewed allocations of national revenue and foreign aid that neglected agriculture and nutrition.
Despite some improvements since the mid-1990s many African governments continue to saddle domestic agricultural markets with high arbitrary taxes while bestowing incentives and macroeconomic support on other sectors. Meanwhile, many developed countries are heavily subsidizing agriculture long after its role as a development driver has passed. African farmers, sidelined by biased policies and squeezed by unfair markets, struggle to compete against these formidable odds.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s food security and human development depend enormously on agriculture. Agriculture determines food availability, the first link in the food security chain. It is the main source of income and employment for a majority of Africans, especially the poor, and thus directly supports human development.
Completing the circle, income and employment strengthen food security by enabling people to purchase or produce food. Agriculture also shapes how sub-Saharan Africa uses its land and water— and how sustainably. Farm productivity is the key driver of sustainable agricultural progress.
Sustainable increases in agricultural productivity will expand both food availability and access by generating income and employment. Specific interventions will have to be tailored to national and local circumstances but will depend on reaching and continuously expanding the agricultural productivity frontier. This implies policies that encourage adopting and sustainable using agricultural inputs, investing in infrastructure and developing financial markets, and creating and applying local knowledge.
Too often, the news from sub-Saharan Africa is easy to predict: famine and humanitarian food crises on the front page, volatile international food prices in the business section and numbing images of emaciated children in the magazine supplement.
But while hunger dominates the African narrative, malnutrition, its silent accomplice, seldom makes headlines. Malnutrition is an obstacle to human development. And without much more effective interventions it will continue to inflict irreversible damage on individuals early in life and large economic and social losses on countries for years to come.
Evidence across the globe and in many sub-Saharan African countries shows the large return on investment in nutrition. Eradicating malnutrition requires individual and household actions to change the dynamics around nutrition and health practices; strong investment in public services to improve food availability, access and use; and the positioning of nutrition at the centre of national development priorities, integrating policies affecting agriculture, gender equality and incentives to change diets and behaviour.
Getting food from field to table is fraught with risk. Shocks, cycles and trends threaten food security and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa.Shocks such as conflict, droughts and floods, and food price spikes inflict immediate hardship on the poorest and most vulnerable households and constrain human development over time— and too often the damage is permanent.
Cyclical or longer term stresses such as seasonal harvesting patterns that result in long “hungry seasons” between harvests and creeping environmental degradation are slower moving and more predictable, but they devastate communities all the same— especially communities that cannot manage exposure to hazards and protect livelihoods.
Building sub-Saharan Africa’s resilience to food system stresses requires addressing the key drivers of instability, managing the risks associated with the many threats and enhancing human capabilities. Market-driven, publicly funded risk management tools and social transfers work together to reduce instability in food systems. The trade-offs, appropriate coverage and institutional arrangements all depend on country conditions. As the next chapter discusses, these interventions should be underpinned by policies and institutions that recognize access to adequate and sufficient food as a fundamental right that people must be empowered to pursue. States can foster resilience through social protection that safeguards and enhances people’s access to food and eases their realization of that right.
The basic right to food— and thus to life itself— is still being violated in sub-Saharan Africa today. Famines and food crises continue to plague the region as nowhere else in the world. The intolerable cycle of hunger, starvation and despair that traps so many Africans shows no signs of relinquishing its grip.
There is ample blame to go around— among national governments in sub-Saharan Africa, multilateral institutions and aid agencies abroad, and others with the knowledge and means to effect change but who take no action. This Report offers a range of policy options and technical solutions that could go a long way towards building a new sub-Saharan Africa that is food secure and capable of advancing prosperity and human development.
Many involve shifting resources, capacities and decisions towards the poor, to make the changes more effective and lasting. Sub-Saharan Africa needs a new agenda for social justice that empowers the rural poor and especially women, who hold the key to greater food security and human development.
Governments need to shape their policies to fit each country’s circumstances and needs and, as discussed throughout the chapter, particular emphasis needs to be on rural women. In the growing number of countries where democratic governance is deepening and public participation is widening, the policies needed to enhance food security can grow organically through engaged citizenry and international exchanges of knowledge, technology and finance. In the countries where self-centred rulers and elites hold nations in a stranglehold, the explosion of popular anger in the wake of recent global food crises that shook governments across the world might finally wake governments to the urgency of sub-Saharan Africa’s food insecurity.
The statistical tables include the 46 countries of the United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Africa. South Sudan’s statistics are not yet fully available from the internationally harmonized data sources that are the basis for the statistical tables. Technical note 2 presents recent national data on human development and food security for South Sudan. Sub-Saharan Africa aggregates are population weighted unless otherwise noted A dash between two years (as in 2008–2010) indicates that the data are for the most recent year available in the period specified, unless otherwise noted. Growth rates are usually the annual average between the first and last years of the period shown. A slash between two years (as in 2008/2010) indicates that the data are the average for the years shown, unless otherwise noted. .. means that data are not available for the specified cell.