The UN General Assembly has chosen for this year’s World Food Day, the theme: “Social Protection and Hunger.” Well done to them for raising public awareness about hunger challenges and encouraging people worldwide to take action in the fight against hunger. This year’s topic aims to underline the role social protection plays in reducing chronic food insecurity and poverty by ensuring direct access to food or the means to buy food. Social protection is, moreover, a viable alternative for stimulating agricultural production and local economic activity.
History has shown that within a half-a-generation, continents can drastically improve agricultural production and make themselves food sufficient. We have seen this in Asia and Eastern Europe where the ‘Green Revolution’ turned around their food security stories and made them net exporters of food. But will this story ever happen in Africa? Agriculture has remained a largely neglected sector by stakeholders, particularly governments. Although the 2003 Maputo Declaration of Food Security and Agriculture committed all 53 African countries to investing at least 10 percent of their respective national budgets for policy implementation relating to agriculture and rural development, only about 13 countries have so far met that. The sad part is that the continent continues to rely heavily on imported food, spending more than 50 billion US dollars on that annually, despite the vast available opportunities for local production.
Should we care about hunger? Yes! This is because the right to food remains a basic human right. In a world of plenty, 805 million people, one in nine worldwide, live with chronic hunger. The costs of hunger and malnutrition fall heavily on the most vulnerable. 60% of the hungry in the world are women. Almost 5 million children under the age of 5 die of malnutrition-related causes every year. 4 in 10 children in poor countries are malnourished damaging their bodies and brains.
Every human being has a fundamental right to be free from hunger and the right to adequate food. The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child has the physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.
There is evidence that reliable and regular social protection schemes can help poor communities to overcome financial constraints and manage risks that usually discourage them from pursuing higher returns. When implemented on a large scale, social protection systems can also contribute to an overall reduction of the poverty gap, empowering families and communities.
Something is already wrong with our agriculture and food systems. Regardless of great progress in increasing production during the last century, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry and malnourished. Further hundreds of millions eat too much, or the wrong sort of food, and it is making them ill. The health of the environment suffers too, as degradation seems to accompany many of the agricultural systems we have evolved in recent years. Something needs to be done about this, an expansion of another sort of agriculture, founded more on agro-ecological principles and in harmony with people, their societies and cultures is critical.
We need to have means of passing on food from the field for the market and for the consumers and other end-users since marketing in much of the developing world is largely informal. Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and this likes give evidence. The many and diverse actions and means of doing this constitute a defined output distribution system. Take Ghana for example, food gets rotten in Southern Ghana whilst simultaneously; the same kind of food is needed in the north.
Hunger and malnutrition are more pervasive in Africa. Africa has had successes in her farming just like the new palm wine—very sweet and delicious but lacks some depth of the more mature wine; sustaining our successes needs salvation. The trigger for Malawi’s famine was erratic weather during the 2000–2001 farming season, which resulted in a maize harvest 32% lower than in 2000. Niger’s food crisis in 2005 has been attributed to a locust invasion and drought that devastated crop production. But Niger suffered only a moderate decline in the national grain harvest in 2004–2005, to a level 11% below the 5-year average. But none of the famines can be attributed to a lack of predictive information, but problems of data accuracy and credibility, as well as inconsistencies and politicised choices between alternative sources of information, did play major roles.
In our world today, there is science and technology. A timely and satisfactory charitable response could avert a livelihood predicament from evolving into a famine, but the response should not be late. We require an intervention to lessen susceptibility and risk in each of the three areas deliberated above: production, exchange, and response.
Numerous agricultural regions in Africa face long-lasting food production discrepancies, including highland Ethiopia, southern Malawi and southern Niger. In these areas, where smallholder livelihoods are undiversified and are dominated by subsistence-oriented food crop production, even a moderate decline in harvests can be devastating for household food security.
We are required to increase food production to some 60 percent to feed the 9.2 billion people who will inhabit our planet in 2050. In order to promise this result and face this challenge, it is vital to ensure that farmers have access to infrastructures, credit and functioning markets. Farmers also need to have access to science, innovation and knowledge, which are essential for the development of the agricultural sector.
We are better to produce more and regain our state of massive food exportation which alerts us that producing food sustainably is only part of the challenge. On the consumption side, there needs to be a shift to nutritious diets with a smaller environmental footprint, and a reduction in food losses and waste. Ultimately, success in making the transition to sustainable patterns of production and consumption requires transparent, participatory, results-focused and accountable systems of governance of food and agriculture, across board. Either we build a future for all, or there will be no acceptable future for anyone: Let’s be the Zero Hunger Generation!