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Food security: Regional solutions key to solving Africa’s challenges

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Food security: Regional solutions key to solving Africa’s challenges

UN Photo/Fred Noy
UN Photo/Fred Noy
A farmer in Sudan harvesting sorghum. Photo: UN Photo/Fred Noy

Africa faces a myriad of hurdles on its way to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda.  Climate change, population growth, youth bulge, widespread unemployment, extreme poverty and hunger are some of the challenges that the continent is grappling with.  

People living in extreme poverty in the sub-Saharan Africa increased from 290 million in 1990 to 414 million in 2010. The region currently spends more than $35 billion on food imports per year and it is projected that by 2050, Africa’s population will increase from the current 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion and that two out of every five children globally will be African.

Of the challenges currently facing the continent, it is climate change that has greatly slowed down Africa’s progress towards MDGs, especially those related to eliminating hunger and poverty, improving human health and ensuring environmental sustainability. This is because climate change disproportionately affects the livelihoods of the most vulnerable population by increasing the occurrence of natural disasters, affecting the continuity of ecosystem functioning and the ecosystem services it provides. Climate change also damages the critical natural resources that vulnerable communities depend on.

Establishing food security is important for millions of people facing hunger in Africa and is crucial for sustainable economic development and long-term prosperity of the continent. Addressing food security in a changing climate, therefore, is key for a rising Africa in the 21st century.

Trans-border solutions

Climate change does not respect boundaries hence it is necessary for African countries to work together to build resilience to its adverse weather effects. Many of the countries in Africa’s five regions share trans-border natural resources on which millions of livelihoods depend. Countries within the same region share ecosystems that are subject to similar climate change impacts on livelihoods. In these situations, regional collaboration can provide the best strategy in working together to safeguard the common trans-boundary ecosystems.

Regional approach to development can enhance African countries’ competitiveness for economic growth and can also address human security issues in Africa. Human security means access to life’s basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, education and health care, as well as the non-material conditions of human existence like freedom, liberty and participation in the decisions of the community that affect their lives.

Around the world, regional approach has successfully improved human security. For example, through cross-border collaboration, security issues related to water quality, fishery and flooding was greatly improved in Rhine River in Europe and similarly, water security was greatly improved in Lake Uromiyeh in Iran. Also the SARS and avian flu pandemics were fought jointly in the Asia region.

A regional approach to ecosystem-based adaptation can serve as a flexible and cost-effective solution for addressing food security problems as it strengthens ecological foundation of food systems. It also increases the resilience of the systems to adverse impacts, protects and restores critical natural resources that communities depend on, especially for the poor. A good example is the reforestation of mangroves in the Xai-Xai District in Mozambique which restored the ecosystem, which in turn increased fishery productivity and yields. Also, the adoption of Zaï Pit technique (placing a mixture of soil and manure in small pits in degraded lands) in the Sahel led to increased soil fertility, decreased soil erosion and increased crop yields.

The power of working with nature

The UNEP’s regional approach ecosystems-based adaptation for food security programme is charting a new paradigm shift in addressing food security across the continent. Food security ought to be looked at at a regional rather than national level because regional integration, if driven by foods security concerns, has a lot of potential for development in Africa.

This approach will ensure that limited resources are prioritized and targeted towards the most effective solutions and therefore reduce the overall adaptation costs. Through cross-border coordination, region-specific knowledge and tools can be developed jointly to accelerate adaptation planning.

Ecosystem monitoring and assessment programmes can also be conducted jointly to provide integrated, high-quality information for decision-making across countries. Best practices can be shared and implemented across countries to accelerate capacity building. In addition, management practices implemented by one country could affect ecosystem services and food security of others. Coordinated adaption planning at regional level can involve multiple stakeholders to assess tradeoffs, reconcile multiple objectives and make joint decisions.

This approach provides an effective tool for African countries to work together in safeguarding common trans-boundary ecosystems, improving climate change resilience and building sustainable food systems. It corresponds with the African Union’s commitments in Maputo Declaration (2003) and the Malabo Declaration (2014) on accelerating agricultural development and transformation, and the objectives of Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). It can, therefore, be implemented as a regional strategy for coordinating all the regional efforts in addressing food security, climate change, as well as enhancing the productivity of the very ecosystems that underpin economies and livelihoods.

Therefore, stronger political and financial support should be invested in wider implementation of such projects in Africa. This will foster a future that is not marked by conflict but by cooperation, not by human suffering, but by human progress as we seek to achieve, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “an Africa where there is work, bread, water and salt for all’.

Dr Richard Munang is UNEP’s Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator.

Ms. Zhen Han is a doctoral student at Cornell University.

The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the institutions with which they are affiliated.