The food-health-security nexus

A dry river bed due to a prolonged drought that hit Kenya in 2023.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Africa needs to promote sustainable and climate-smart agricultural practices.
  • Africa stands at a critical juncture where concerted action is paramount to secure a future of food security, health, and stability.

Africa faces enormous obstacles and a rising cost of living. Now is the time to take decisive action to ensure food security, health, and stability in the future. This is due to the complex interactions between food, health, and security, necessitating comprehensive interventions across sectors and borders.

The continent can change its food systems and open the door to a better future by exploiting its wealth of resources, young population, and emerging urbanisation and digitalisation trends. QU Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), further reinforced this, once saying, “Africa holds the key to moving towards a world free from hunger and poverty.”

Food is not just a fundamental human necessity but also a linchpin for health and security across Africa. However, the 2023 joint report by FAO, the African Union (AU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the World Food Programme (WFP) revealed a troubling regression. Despite initial strides towards ending hunger and malnutrition between 2000 and 2010, Africa has suffered a substantial setback, particularly between 2019 and 2022.

The report disclosed that in 2023, nearly 282 million people in Africa faced undernourishment, marking a staggering increase of 57 million since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, an estimated 868 million individuals experienced moderate or severe food insecurity, with a staggering 342 million categorised as severely food insecure. Central, eastern and western Africa bore the brunt, with more than two-thirds of their populations facing varying food insecurity.

The report inadvertently reveals the critical link between food, health, and national security. It underscores that food security is inherently intertwined with peace and stability in the continent. And the regions grappling with moderate to severe food insecurity, notably central, eastern, and western Africa also coincide with areas plagued by conflict and facing significant threats to peace.

The disparities in food security prevalence and trends across Africa’s regions are currently stark. Southern Africa, including South Africa, exhibited the lowest increase in food insecurity, primarily attributed to the impact of Covid-19. Conversely, East Africa experienced a surge in food insecurity during the reporting period, coinciding with conflicts in countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. Central Africa, despite facing data challenges, saw a notable increase in severely food-insecure individuals, exacerbated by the ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic.

West Africa also witnessed a significant rise in severe food insecurity, with a notable surge in affected populations attributed to political upheavals, including several coups in the Sahel region. These regional variations underscore the diverse food security challenges across Africa. This calls for the area to necessitate tailored interventions and policies to address each region’s specific issues. It can also be used to enhance overall food security outcomes.

Conflicts disrupt food production, distribution, and access, damage infrastructure and institutions, and displace millions of people, amplifying the risk of hunger and malnutrition. Addressing the root causes and consequences of conflicts is imperative for improving Africa’s food security and health outcomes.

The continent is home to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, who grapple with limited access to nutritious food amidst staggering income inequality. Moreover, Africa’s susceptibility to climate change-induced events like droughts, floods, and pests further jeopardises food production and the natural resources essential for sustenance. The region’s heavy reliance on a few staple crops underscores the urgency of diversifying agricultural production to meet nutritional needs and mitigate external shocks.

To address these challenges comprehensively, Africa needs to adopt a holistic and integrated approach that involves multiple actors and sectors and considers the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of food systems. This approach entails promoting sustainable and climate-smart agricultural practices, strengthening food value chains and markets, improving food and nutrition policies and programmes, and depoliticising food production.

Incentivising large-scale food production, promoting rural-urban linkages, and enhancing rural development can contribute significantly to overcoming food security challenges.

By investing in infrastructure, logistics, and capacity-building initiatives, Africa can improve the efficiency and inclusiveness of its food value chains and markets, thereby reducing post-harvest losses and enhancing access to nutritious food.

Africa stands at a critical juncture where concerted action is paramount to secure a future of food security, health, and stability. The intricate interplay between food, health, and security demands holistic interventions that transcend borders and sectors. By leveraging its abundant resources, youthful population, and burgeoning urbanisation and digitalisation trends, Africa has the potential to transform its food systems and pave the way for a brighter future.

However, this journey requires unwavering commitment, innovative solutions, and collaborative efforts from governments, civil society, the private sector, and the international community. By embracing these challenges as opportunities for growth and resilience, Africa can chart a course towards a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable future for all its inhabitants.

The Writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written at a personal level.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.