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Africans flying food security flag

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Picture: Omotayo Tajudeen /Pexels/Taken on September 25, 2019 – A woman holding tomatoes at a market in Lagos, Nigeria. The World Bank says food insecurity must be addressed to meet the calorie and nutrition demands of Africa’s one billion people, as well as protect their human development along with the regulation of inflation and debt, the writer says.

By Dominic Naidoo

Sub-Saharan Africa is facing “the perfect storm”—a food, fuel, and fertiliser crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, soaring inflation, rising debt, and extreme weather.

According to the World Bank, food insecurity must be addressed to meet Africa’s one billion people’s calorie and nutrition demands and protect their human development along with the regulation of inflation and debt.

The 2022 Global Report on Food Crises Mid-Year Update found that one in five Africans go to bed hungry with 140 million Africans food insecure. Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, countries that purchase wheat and sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine have seen prices soar out of reach.

Countries in Eastern and Southern Africa are taking short, medium, and long-term actions with World Bank support to mitigate the impact of the current crisis on the poorest households and strengthen African food systems.

African social protection programmes have helped residents in the subregion cope with high food prices and shortages. Poor households are more vulnerable because they spend the most on food.

“The Baxnaano programme came to us at a right moment,” Somali mother of eight Ms Nishey Mohamed Kheyre from Bakool told a World Bank researcher. “Bad crops and locust infestations have hurt our farming livelihood. We have been receiving aid for a while, and I used the money to buy food, clothes, and school fees for my children in Xuddur. I bought hens for our family and sold the eggs.”

Baxnaano has enabled the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) to provide social safety nets to households enduring persistent poverty and severe climate-related shocks since its start in 2019. Over 1 million people — 9 percent of the population — received nutrition-linked unconditional cash transfers to cover basic consumption needs.

The pandemic made urban households without social protection vulnerable. The Solidarity through Economic Transfers Against the Poverty in Kinshasa (STEP-KIN) programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) helped urban households with food insecurity and lost livelihoods.

STEP-KIN used digital tools to target and deliver cash transfers to vulnerable households in Kinshasa in a data-constrained context. The largest cash-based operation in Kinshasa, the emergency digital cash transfer programme enrolled and paid over 270,000 people in 100 disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Doughnut vendor Catherine Eswabo benefited. She wonders how her family survived without the programme. “The cash was the only way for my family to stock up on corn flour, rice and oil during lockdown, leaving the rest to day-to-day coping,” she claimed.

“Now that wheat flour price has doubled, my doughnut business is wrecked, my family desperately needs assistance to cope with rising food prices.” Mrs Eswabo’s family now depends solely on her husband, a motorbike taxi driver whose company is increasingly hampered by a repeating fuel shortage. STEP-KIN’s next phase will benefit 250,000 people.

STEP-KIN beneficiaries used cash transfers for food (46 percent), education (35 percent), livelihood reinvestment (32 percent), and rent (12 percent).

Bruno Mweemba, managing director of Zambia’s Panuka Farms, a small horticulture business, feels that SMEs like his contribute to food security.

The World Bank-supported Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project helped Panuka Farms modernise its cold storage and switch from open field farming to greenhouse cultivation, allowing Mweemba to reduce food losses and climate-proof his production, increasing food supply in a changing climate.

Panuka Farms competes with imported items to deliver fresher produce to Shoprite and Pick-n-Pay by meeting demand for high-value veggies like English cucumbers. He employs 24 people, most of whom are recent college graduates who run various farm operations.

The World Bank-funded Agricultural Commercialisation Project (AGCOM) in Malawi is helping commercial smallholders succeed in marketplaces.

After a few years, the benefits of investing in smallholder commercial agriculture and using “productive alliances” to organise and boost productivity and sales appear promising.

Building and developing farmer groups allows small-holder farmers In Malawi to take advantage of market opportunities by sharing information, reducing expenses, and benefiting from volume sales.

AGCOM’s productive collaborations help Malawi create jobs. To mitigate the food crisis and provide prospects for Malawi’s 400,000-plus young workers, employment is essential.

AGCOM has elevated smallholder farmer, agribusiness, and government expectations. It showed that commercialised smallholder agriculture may assist Malawi weather the global food crisis.

Eastern and Southern African farmers face severe climate change and weather challenges. Farmers depend on their crops to sustain themselves, their families, their towns, and their nations, a fragile food chain subject to weather changes. Food security requires protecting these farmers and making their crops climate-resilient.

Closer to home, in Lesotho, Bokang Petje, the owner and managing director of Happy C&J Village Farm in Mahloenyeng, was able to build a borehole and drip irrigation to irrigate individual plants instead of spraying a big area. The approach saves soil nutrients and vital water resources.

Petje was able to buy plastic tunnelling to protect his lettuce, cabbage, tomato, and potato crops from hail as well as shade netting through the Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) II.

He sells vegetables and fruit at local grocery shops thanks to his expanding farm and capacity to grow crops year-round despite climate change-induced hailstorms and cold weather.

The Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) Project in Kenya is helping smallholder farmers and pastoralists boost productivity and climate-change adaptation. Climate-smart agriculture practices, research, seed systems, and agrometeorological, market, climatic, and consulting services are scaled up.

“It is imperative to support farmers who rely on the food they grow for their families and for income, especially given that climate shocks are more frequent than ever before,” said Bobojon Yatimov, World Bank Senior Agricultural Specialist for Lesotho.

“The prolonged and severe droughts of 2016 and 2019 and the floods of 2021 and 2022 are unmistakable signs of this changing weather pattern, which is hurting agriculture,” Yatimov said.

A new $2.3 billion regional programme approved by the World Bank in June 2022 targets Eastern and Southern African countries’ structural food insecurity and vulnerability to unpredictable shocks by focusing on climate-resilient food systems.

The first phase will support the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to improve information and data sharing and the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) to use its networks and outreach tools for regional coordination. The initial phase of the programme will assist 2.3 million people with $788.10 million in financing.

Angola, Tanzania, and Zambia might become African agricultural powerhouses. To meet human, economy, and environmental needs and to be economically competitive, the agricultural sector must change.

Dominic Naidoo is an environment activist and writer

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.