Africa trapped in a hunger cycle, new UN report showsBy AFRICA REVIEW Writer | Tuesday, May 15 2012 at 10:25
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food insecure region despite recent runaway economic growth rates, a new United Nations report released Tuesday shows.
The Africa Human Development Report 2012, the first such, also ranked Seychelles and Mauritius top of its Human Development Index, with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Niger propping up the rankings.
Niger is one of a clutch of Sahelian countries affected by drought, and while some of the world’s fastest growing economies this year are in the region, but a full one in every four Africans are undernourished, the report says, blaming poverty, poor governance and western agricultural subsidies for the chronic food insecurity.
Despite Africa’s abundant agricultural land and favourable climate, total productivity in the region remains the lowest of all global regions.
"Many sub-Saharan countries are net food-importers and even depend on food aid during all-too-frequent humanitarian crises,” the report notes and calls for proper use of food and good nutrition.
Themed Towards a food secure future, it calls for the nationalisation of food security plans to beat the challenge of hunger posed in countries such as Somalia and those in the Sahel currently battling drought.
"Building a food secure future for all Africans requires focus and action in critical areas, from increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers to advancing nutrition among children, building resilient communities and sustainable food systems, and empowering women and the rural poor,” Helen Clark, the United Nations Development Programme administrator, notes in the report.
With one in every three African children stunted, the report holds that famine, starvation and food insecurity could be prevented if regional governments put in place the right policies.
"The shameful scenes of feeding tents and starving children that have been associated with sub-Saharan Africa for far too long can be eliminated once and for all," the report, launched in Nairobi, says.
The UN-backed study identifies volatile food and input prices, demographic pressures and dwindling natural resources as some of the challenges governments are grappling with as they seek to feed their citizens.
A growing middle class and larger affluent class have further compounded these challenges, the report notes.
"Africa has the knowledge, the technology and the means...what is missing is political will and dedication,” says Tegegnework Gettu, the regional director of the UNDP’s Africa bureau.
According to the report, focusing on higher production levels through science, technology and innovation will lift millions out of poverty and improve health and education, further raising the ability of the people to demand food security from their leaders.
Failing markets, misguided policies and weak institutions are identified as the deeper lying causes of Africa’s chronic food problems, with the report even going further back to criticise the much-maligned Structural Adjustment Programmes for the neglect of agriculture.
Governments are not spared either, accused of levying heavy taxes on domestic agriculture while exempting other areas of the economy, leaving Africa’s smallholder farmers at the mercy of advanced global markets.
"Breaking with the past, standing up to the vested interests of the privileged few and building institutions that that rebalance power relations...will require courageous citizens and dedicated leaders,” the report notes.
And with the continent’s population forecast to hit two billion by 2050, meeting the increasing demand for food is urgent, it says, and recommends interventions such as funding more research and initiatives such as irrigation and technology to lift food production.
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