Agriculture and food security

Africa can feed its 1 billion people!

Africa can feed itself yet 240 million people go hungry on the continent so what's going wrong? Food shortage and insecurity is chronic in Sub-Saharan Africa in spite of numerous natural resources and an agriculture-based continent. Agriculture accounts for about 30% of sub-saharan's GDP and at least 40% of its export values, and provides approximately 75% of employment, thus forming the backbone of these economies and the livelihoods of its population.

Achieving Food Security in Africa from ACORD on Vimeo.

Hearing the voices of farmers! A debate was animated in a meeting hall in Arusha, Tanzania recently:

“We need to ensure that our agriculture feeds us first”

“If I am growing sweet potatoes for my family, where is the support for me?”

“Can we strengthen Africa’s agriculture enough to be able to engage in the global market from a strong position?”

“Remember that crop farmers and livestock farmers have different needs”

“How do we get from a masterplan down to actually having an impact on the ground?’

“How do we ensure farmers have access to water?”

“We should focus more on food processing and not just food production”

What came up most often was the question:

“How can we take part in this process and get decision makers to listen to what we have to say?”

The process being discussed is an agricultural policy framework. If you think that sounds dull, think again. It is literally a matter of life or death. 

Agriculture in Africa

Agriculture is the backbone the economy in Africa. In rural areas agriculture is the source of livelihood for 80% of the people and on average it contributes over a third to GDP. Around 80% of farms in Africa are small, with less than 2 hectares of land and they grow most of the staple food.  For instance, in Mozambique about 3.2 million small-scale farmers contribute up to 95% of the value of the agricultural sector while the remaining 5% comes from just 400 commercial farmers. 

Agriculture is particularly important for women. Women provide 60-80% of agricultural labour and in many African societies have primary responsibility for growing the household’s food. They also take a large role in small-scale food processing and marketing. The impact of migration and HIV has been to further 'feminise' agriculture.

Yet despite being an agricultural continent, Africa is also the region of the world with the highest level of hunger. This situation is getting worse not better. In the Millennium Declaration the world's governments promised to halve hunger by 2015 but in fact there are now more people living with constant hunger than there were when the promise was made.

This utter failure to even reduce hunger, let along halve it, is an indictment of existing international and national government policies on agriculture and food security. Change is needed and one basic issue to address is who makes the policies. 

Food systems in Africa have excluded the vast majority of those involved in producing food and feeding people from formulating food and agriculture policies – women, smallscale farmers, indigenous people, migrants, agricultural and fishery labourers and pastoralists. These groups also make up the majority of those living with hunger. It is vital that food producers have a voice in determining policies that affect their own lives on such a fundamental level as the right to food. They bring a wealth of knowledge, understanding of local contexts and diversity of ideas.

ACORD is working to support farmers groups in claiming a stronger role in forming policies on agriculture and food security.

Investment in agriculture

One simple reason for the failure of agricultural policies is the massive cuts in investment in agriculture that took place in the last two decades. For a long time agriculture was seen as a dead-end and funding went elsewhere. Faced with the evidence of failure however, thinking has changed to see agriculture as the engine needed to drive growth in Africa's economies.

African governments led the way in this change when they signed the Maputo Declaration in 2003, committed themselves to invest at least 10% of national budgets in agriculture. However for a long time there was little progress in this. In 2007-8, theory and reality coincided. Leading donors, such as the World Bank, declared a shift in their thinking just as the global food price shock hit the headlines. This conjunction brought agriculture and food security back to the top of the international agenda with renewed commitment.

This is good news but increased investment is not in itself sufficient. Funding will only translate into genuine agricultural development, supporting poverty reduction, improved welfare and increased food security if it is invested well through policies that are effective and focussed on smallholder productivity. Uncritical perpetuation of existing policy approaches will keep hunger alive. 

What is CAADP?

The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, or CAADP for short, is a continental policy framework intended to help countries review their agricultural sector and identify key opportunities where investment and support will lead to agricultural growth. Given the diversity of contexts across African country contexts CAADP can only provide a set of principles and broadly defined strategies. It is brought to life through coordinated efforts to incorporate CAADP into national and regional policies and it is the RECs which are coordinating this process.

CAADP was established in 2003 when African governments committed themselves, in the Maputo Declaration, to increase their investment in agriculture. For several years, little was done with CAADP, but with the renewed emphasis on agriculture and food security following the 2007-8 global food price shock this has changed. Now donor countries are seeking to align their aid through CAADP’s framework and African countries are speeding up the process of developing national CAADP strategies, known as ‘CAADP compacts’.

CAADP’s continental scope and the level of support that is now behind it gives it immense potential. However this will only become reality if CAADP’s policies are a break from the past 30 years of structural adjustment which Africa has endured. One aspect of this is that the national policy debates that are happening to develop CAADP compacts need to include small-scale food producers, especially women, and to listen to their knowledge and experience.

  • african union
  • agriculture
  • caadp
  • food security
  • food sovereignty
  • Food reserves

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    Africa can feed itself so what’s going wrong? Watch the video and learn more about CAADP, the continental roadmap to sustainable agriculture
    Read more on ACORD's work in Agriculture and food security.

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