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Why Eastern Africa has to speed up pursuit of food and nutrition security

locusts

Kenya was the hardest hit with the locust invasion in 2020 compared with her East African counterparts. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Edson Mpyisi Pic

Summary

  • FAOs 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI) report indicates that world hunger increased in 2020 with COVID-19 playing a significant role.  
  • The report states that hunger affects 21 percent of the population in Africa.
  • In Eastern Africa in particular, undernutrition is reported to be 28.1 percent, which places it second from the bottom in African regions after central Africa at 31.8 percent.

As the global community marks this year’s World Food Day 2021 (October 16th) , where does Eastern Africa stand in respect of food and nutrition security that is a declared target of Kenya included. The target is still a long way off.

FAOs 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI) report indicates that world hunger increased in 2020 with COVID-19 playing a significant role.  

The report states that hunger affects 21 percent of the population in Africa. In Eastern Africa in particular, undernutrition is reported to be 28.1 percent, which places it second from the bottom in African regions after central Africa at 31.8 percent.

Compared to 7.1 percent in north Africa, 10.1 percent in southern Africa and 16.7 percent in west Africa, Eastern Africa is lagging behind.     

Some of the main drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition in Eastern Africa in recent times include conflict, extreme climate variability, economic slowdowns, and recent disasters such as the desert locust invasion during 2019-2020.

Unfortunately, more disasters such as drought and floods continue to increase in both frequency and intensity.

So, following the status of food and nutrition security presented above, , what should East African countries do to get back on track on the journey to food and nutrition security?

A Food Systems Approach

The 2021 World Food Day theme, “Our actions are our future: Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life,” offers some ideas.

It underpins the fact that food production, nutrition and the environment are all connected, and must be addressed together through well-coordinated comprehensive approaches as opposed to dealing with one aspect at a time. In other words, governments in Eastern Africa need to deliberately develop and implement policies that adopt the “Food Systems Approach”. 

A Food Systems Approach encompass the entire range of actors and their interlinked value-adding activities involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products that originate from agriculture, forestry or fisheries, and parts of the broader economic, societal and natural environments in which they are embedded.

A food systems lens is essential to better identify entry points for interventions to address issues that disrupt food production and distribution.

Coherence in the formulation and implementation of policies and investments among food, health, social protection and environmental systems is key.

Fortunately, East African nations seeking to implement concise policies and plausible actions on food and nutrition security have a partner in the African Development Bank, which runs an elaborate programme for championing the same.

AfDB’s “Feed Africa” strategy seeks to support the transformation of Africa’s agriculture into a competitive and inclusive agribusiness sector that creates wealth and improves lives.

The strategy has four specific goals, namely: Contribute to the end of poverty; End hunger and malnutrition; Make Africa a net food exporter; and move Africa to the top of export-orientated value chains where it has comparative advantage.

The various initiatives that the AfDB is supporting towards these goals relate to promoting greater adoption of new and innovative technologies for transforming agriculture on the continent, inspiring and enabling the youth to get more involved in agriculture and agribusiness enterprises, and the setting up of special agro-industrial processing zones.

Importantly, these initiatives run alongside others that focus on building resilience to climate change and related disasters, promoting peace, creating access to markets and promoting trade, among others.

Within these is the broader food systems approach that countries in the region can benefit from.

Depending on the context of the concerned country, there are various pathways to follow towards food systems transformation: integrating humanitarian, development and peace-building policies in conflict-affected areas; scaling up climate resilience across food systems; strengthening resilience of those most vulnerable to economic adversity; intervening along the food supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods; tackling poverty and structural inequalities, ensuring interventions are pro-poor and inclusive; and strengthening food environments and changing consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impacts on human health and the environment.

These actions must be pursued deliberately and not through mere rhetoric.

Edson Mpyisi is a Chief Financial Economist and Coordinator of the ENABLE Youth program at the African Development Bank, East Africa region.

Email: [email protected]