By Micheal Simire
United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Nigeria, Daouda Toure, stated during the recent launch of the African Human Development Report 2012 themed: “Towards a Food Secure Future” in Abuja that Africa can indeed build a food secure future. According to him, Nigeria has taken a leadership role and leading the way in the continental Agricultural Transformation Agenda
All around the world more than 140 countries have published some 600 National Human Development Reports (NHDRs) with UNDP support. In Nigeria, about six national reports have been produced including one that focused on the ‘Niger Delta’ and the other one on ‘Achieving Growth with Equity’. Through NHDRs, UNDP has contributed to policy dialogue at country level and other critical issues in the development paradigm in advancing human development. This report puts food security at the fore front of development agenda for the continent.
This Africa Human Development Report advocates people-centered and comprehensive approaches to food security, and is both timely and important. It reminds us that food security is basic to human development, and that food insecurity can trap generations of people in underdevelopment.
Malnutrition and hunger contribute to poor health, reduce worker productivity, and hinder ability to learn. Their effects on the physical development and cognitive skills of children are known to be long-lasting.
Similarly, low human development, including lack of education, poor health, and limited access to information and resources, affects the food security of individual households and communities. Experience has shown that countries where food security and nutrition have improved have also made good strides to MDGs particularly the health MDG goals.
This report clearly points out two disturbing paradoxes in sub-Sahara Africa. The paradox is that Africa is not predestined to hunger and malnutrition. Our continent has the lowest occupation of arable land, yet one quarter of the African population is affected by hunger. Leadership in Africa is key in eliminating hunger in the continent. Unless food insecurity is properly addressed, there can be no lasting solution to the deficit in nutrition, education cannot be improved, health challenges will not go away and productivity will remain below that of all other regions of the world.
More than one in four Africans (i.e. nearly 218 million) remain undernourished while more than 40 percent of the children under five – almost 55 million are malnourished. The situation appears to be worse in the Sahel belt countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali Mauritania, Niger, and the northern regions of Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal where majority of the child deaths are believed to be due to lack of effective systems to address nutrition and other related basic services. The Sahel food security situation as we know has been the center of discussions of regional leaders. At the same time, leaders in the UN system, e.g. ERC, UNDP Administrator and WFP have all visited the region to discuss relief response needed and at the time working with relevant leaders to build more resilient food security system in Africa.
The Report argues that while drought and crop failure often trigger food crises in Africa, the actual causes of food insecurity go much deeper.
Low agricultural productivity, which curtails the availability of food, leading to trade imbalances and a reliance on imports and humanitarian aid;
Persistent, wide-spread, and extreme poverty which makes getting enough food unaffordable and markets inaccessible for poor people.
Almost half the population in sub-Saharan Africa continues to live on under US$ 1.25 per day; and little policy focus on the importance of nutrition, which enables wide-spread and chronic malnutrition to persist.
The impact on food systems of erratic weather patterns, environmental degradation, food price volatility, and conflict further aggravates these contributing factors to food insecurity.
Again, the Report finds that there are two pervasive biases in policy which explain the persistence of food insecurity in Africa. The first is the urban bias, that has neglected rural development in general and the agricultural sector in particular- That has held back the level of investment required in infrastructure, technology, and agricultural inputs. The second is a bias against women who are in actual fact the main drivers of food production in the continent.
While the picture of food insecurity painted by the Report is complex, it does argue that Africa can build a food secure future. Food security must be the centre piece of national development plans and there is need for coordinated policies in various fronts. The Report highlights four of these: First, improving agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers through increased yields rather than cultivation area expansion that has been the case, can help build food security and generate income and employment on and off the farm. Second, advancing and prioritising nutrition through cross-sectoral interventions builds food security now and for the future generations. Third, enhancing the resilience of families and communities by building stable food systems and through social protection is critical and fourth, empowering the rural poor and women through access to information, markets and knowledge will unleash their transformative power to build a food- secure future.
Perhaps the good news is that some countries in sub-Sahara Africa are now responding positively to these challenges and developing home grown solutions. Given the leadership role of Nigeria on the continent, Nigeria is leading the way. The Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) clearly sets an agenda that can be emulated by other countries in Africa. The Key ATA framework focusing on Agriculture as a business, on value chain, on women and children as well as on market led agriculture can ensure that Nigeria and indeed Africa reverses the trend in a short time. The transformation of the Agricultural sector will definitely create jobs, create wealth and ensure food security. What we need now is robust partnerships amongst stakeholders to achieve success. It is not the responsibility of the Ministry of agriculture and the public sector alone. The private sector as well as development partners have important roles to play.
Currently, the United Nations and indeed other development partners in Nigeria are involved in several collaborative efforts with the government of Nigeria. UNDP has commenced a Facility for Inclusive Market (FIM) project with the Ministry of Agriculture which will deepen the understanding of value chain in Nigeria as well as translate good inclusive market examples into government policies and services. FAO and IFAD are also implementing National Programme for Food Security (NPFS) and Community Based Agricultural Development Projects respectively at the national and State levels in order to enhance food security and poverty eradication. Similarly, UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO have various programmes addressing issues of nutrition, child and maternal health at both the federal and State levels. In addition, the Government of Nigeria, the United Nations and other partners have established 363 Community Management of Acute Malnutrition sites at the end of 2011 and reached about 141,000 children and also planning to reach additional 208,000 children with the setting up of additional 146 sites.
I repeat that the purpose of Human Development Reports is to generate debate, to instigate change and to catalyse action for human development. I, therefore, anticipate that certain aspects of the Report may elicit reactions which will lead to healthy debates and policy decisions, pointing towards a general positive direction for which we all need to put our energies and resources.