As we usher in the new Global Goals, an estimated 27 million people in southern Africa will be facing a hunger crisis in 2015. I would like to add my voice to ensuring that governments put in place measures to protect their populations from hunger through investing in agriculture.
The United Nations has adopted a new set of goals. Zero Hunger is one of the 17 Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The targets under Goal 2 are to “End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition as well as to promote sustainable agriculture”. For southern Africa, the call to focus on meeting these targets could not have come at a better time.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) reports that maize yields this year have shrunk to 90% in some of its member states. This fall in production has been, mostly, due to a combination of factors including, among others, droughts, inadequate farming methods, unstable economic policies and political instability in some countries.
Malawi and Zimbabwe will bear the brunt with over 4.2 million people threatened with hunger during the lean season starting around December. In Zimbabwe, drought was responsible for the country’s low yield while late onset of rains at the start of the growing seasons, prolonged droughts and massive floods were responsible for Malawi’s worst food crisis since 2002. Even the region’s major cereal producing countries – South Africa and Zambia – reduce food production due to the drought and are cushioned by excess stocks from previous years.
Though drought and floods are inevitable, food shortages are not. Food shortages are a symptom of a food system that is underfunded and lacks resilience. The region’s leaders know what to do to resolve these recurring food shortages as they have made commitments at various platforms to reform and invest in the agriculture sector. Yet, despite research showing that, with proper investment, agricultural output in Africa could triple to $1 trillion by 2030, most African countries are not keeping up with their 2003 and 2014 Africa Union (AU) Commitments to invest in agriculture and food security. Other commitments that remain unimplemented include the SADC regional indicative plan, the SADC regional agriculture policy and at the 2014 Malabo commitments to end hunger and transform agriculture.
Consequently, maize production, the main staple food in most of Africa, despite population increases has remained at an average of one tonne per hectare for the last 50 years. In Southern Africa, less than seven percent of arable land is under irrigation, thus the majority of farmers can only practice rain-fed agriculture – increasing their vulnerability.
In spite of this sluggish move of reforms, reviews of Zambia and SA, that are comparatively less affected by food shortages, show it is specific agriculture investments made in the past that have made a difference. For South Africa, its legacy of high public investment in agriculture (apartheid and pre-apartheid) ensures that farmers have access to water all year round through irrigation schemes. In Zambia, the new government has continued to offer seed and input packs for grassroots farming communities. Both these experiences speak to the importance of prioritising adequate public investments in agriculture. It is only through such public investments in the agriculture sector that SADC can boost productivity and ensure that Goal 2 is achieved by 2030.
The 21st century small scale African farmer needs more than seed and fertiliser if s/he is to thrive and beat shocks resulting from bad weather and market failures. Agricultural support services that provide for resilience such as water harvesting can provide farmers with a chance for a second crop as a cushion against drought and similar natural disasters. Farm insurance is another way of protecting farmers.
Ironically, while most governments are not meeting the Africa Union 2003 Maputo and 2014 Malabo commitments to spend 10 percent of their national budget on key agricultural value chains, the affected governments will, this year, as they did last year, spend huge sums of money on food imports. With only a fraction of the sums they will spend this year, governments could have met the Maputo and Malabo commitments.
By default, the current status quo rewards food traders who make a killing especially during times of scarcity, while penalising food producers.
We can choose to make this SADC’s food crisis end by ending the implementation crisis first. Let us demand that governments fulfil the commitments they have made at global, AU, SADC and at national levels to address food security. Now that they have returned from the UN General Assembly, having adopted the Global Goals, let us to remind them, every day, about the commitment they made in respect of Goal 2 of the Global Goals: “ Zero Hunger: end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”