Expert says Africa's food security depends on economic growth

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- All African countries can attain food and nutrition security provided they make dedicated efforts to marshal the required human, institutional and material resources for the task, says Todd Benson, an international food consumption researcher based in the US capital of Washington, D.
C.
Among the basics, says the research fellow in the food consumption division of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is ensuring sustained and broad-based economic growth.
"To end hunger in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050, it is estimated that the region must attain a 3.
5 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product (GDP)," he adds in a discussion paper issued 20 August.
In that document -- "Africa's Food and Nutrition Security Situation: Where We Are And How Did We Get Here?" -- the researcher admits the challenge is immense because only half a dozen countries had growth rates above 2.
5% in the past decade.
According to Benson, ensuring the effectiveness of farmers in producing food is the only way governments will be able to reverse the acute hunger crises that affect 30 to 40 million Africans annually, while 160 million of them are undernourished.
Asked by PANA to comment on trends by certain governments to disengage from the agricultural sector in favour of the private sector, Benson said: "My judgement is that judicial disengagement from the agricultural sector will contribute to increased food and nutrition security.
" The move will remove the implicit market to make agricultural markets more efficient, he argued, saying that "in most cases this will permit farmers to earn greater returns from their labours", which contributes to enhanced food security for both producers and consumers.
However, the IFPRI researcher hastily explained that governments must continue playing their vital role of providing "the necessary public goods for active agricultural inputs and output markets and in the protection of the public good in those areas that the markets are not strong enough to serve".
"This is something of a balancing act.
What we might be seeing in several African countries are corrections, whereby the government liberalised agriculture more than was judicious, so is now reasserting itself in agriculture again," Benson said in response to concerns that liberalisation had left poor peasants on their own.
But he insisted: "The role of government should be as small as is prudent for the public good.
In the past, government involvement was excessive, resulting in poorer farmers and consumers facing higher prices.
" He disputed claims that changing weather and rain patterns contributed to Africa's food and nutrition insecurity, allegedly because the variability of rainfall across the continent "is not significantly different from long-term levels of variability".
Nonetheless, he conceded it was possible that with high population growth, people are forced to farm on lands that are unsuited for the type of farming they do, "so the effects of drought are more dramatic and severe" in Africa.
According to Benson, it is up to food nutrition policy advocates within each African country to convince their respective governments to adopt effective policies capable of reversing rising undernourishment that affects an estimated 200 million of the continent's over 700 million people.
"While international agencies and donors can assist the indigenous advocates, change in policies, including higher investments in agriculture to improve the population's food and nutrition security, should come from within the African countries themselves," he told PANA in a written reply.
Change in agricultural policy is inevitable because the continuing human cost of inadequate food and nutrition impose a heavy burden on the efforts of African governments to foster sustainable economic growth and general welfare.
The IFPRI specialist identifies hunger and malnutrition as being among Africa's biggest constraints to economic growth because they drain the productivity of its people.
It is only by uplifting the productivity of their workforce that these can turn into the engine of broad-based economic growth in Africa, says the institute.
It mentions better education for parents, especially mothers, to enable them provide better care and nutrition for their children, a hygienic environment and access to health services as other important factors.
IFPRI also stresses the need for governments to guarantee the population's physical security because food and nutrition insecurity is particularly rampant in countries affected by conflicts in recent years.
"Those nations that have experienced conflict and the absence of effective central governments in recent years do not have in place the conditions that might assure broad nutrition security," the institute says in its latest document.
"It is only when Africans have secured their basic food and nutrition needs that they will begin to experience sustained improvements in their broader welfare," affirms Benson, whose institute organised the Africa conference on Assuring Food and Nutrition Security in Africa by 2020 at Kampala, Uganda, from 1-3 April this year.

24 august 2004 11:49:00




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