|World food security and what young Africans can do about it
|19 March 2013
By RNW Africa Desk
Created 19 March 2013 5:00
Leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, a region with the world’s fastest-growing and youngest population, seek to create more agriculture jobs. Using new technology and farming techniques, they hope to encourage a young, innovative emerging workforce to impact both economic growth and social development.
Joe Hitchon, Washington, D.C.
Higher agricultural yields would create jobs, lower food prices and reduce hunger and malnutrition. This is crucial in view of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s annual report, released last Thursday.
According to the report, a number of policy changes is still required to improve world food security. New data suggests that world food security remains “vulnerable”, with some 870 million people experiencing sustained hunger and two billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies. The IFPRI, a Washington think tank, says such numbers are “unacceptably high”, and warns that anti-hunger programmes have been “piecemeal”.
Plenty of work, but in the wrong place
“Agriculture in most developing countries is a labour-intensive sector and makes up a big chunk of the labour force,” says Lester Brown, founder of the advocacy group Earth Policy Institute. “In recent years, large firms have introduced a type of agriculture that is very capital-intensive and highly mechanized, but employs very little labour, so there has been a huge loss of employment. Further, modern agriculture requires modern infrastructure – electricity, grain elevators, fertilizer storage and mechanical expertise. To get there requires a lot of investment, but if done properly the nonfarm sector will grow alongside the farming sector.”
If properly managed, however, food policy experts say the sector’s employment potential is significant.
“Agriculture in Africa is now recognized as a source of growth and an instrument for improved food security,” says IFPRI director-general Sheggen Fan. “Africa’s agriculture can absorb large numbers of new job seekers. But in order for agriculture to be a technically dynamic and high-productivity sector that contributes to food security, it will need an influx of educated and innovative young labour.”
This suggestion is a problem considering that many youth in developing countries no longer see agriculture as a viable career. They look instead to urban areas for work.
Conflict fuels hunger
IFPRI’s researchers also identify violent conflict, particularly in Central Africa, as both a cause and consequence of food insecurity.
“Violence in Central Africa, especially in Nigeria, which accounts for more than a quarter of agriculture of sub-Saharan Africa has reduced output growth and food security, and has had dramatic social and economic consequences,” says US Department of Agriculture official Mary Bohman.
Armed conflict in northern Mali and renewed violence in the DR Congo reportedly resulted in the displacement of approximately three million people and forced a further 70,000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.
Fighting in Somalia and Yemen, the civil war in Syria, and unrest across the region in the aftermath of the Arab Awakening was compounded by low rainfall.
The role of gender
In the last year, new evidence on the role of gender in agricultural productivity has also emerged. New data indicates that agricultural performance and food security improve through both agricultural and non-agricultural reforms that increase women’s access to production resources.[related-articles]
Further, women’s contributions to agriculture in developing countries have been shown to bring overall gains in agricultural productivity as well as increased nutritional benefits. Such contributions also improve women’s access to education, technology and financial services.
“While men more commonly grow cotton and maize and other industrial crops, women are the ones who grow the food that feeds the family,” says Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of think tank Food Tank.. “To be effective, initiatives will need to focus on women’s overall equality across all sectors, not just the food and agriculture sector. Until we do that, we’re not going to see the gains we need – like higher yields, economic growth, the protection of environmental resources or the reduction in malnutrition and poverty.”
IFPRI director-general Fan agrees that the status of women is “critical” to poverty reduction, particularly in bringing down levels of malnutrition.
“Women have higher standards, and have been shown to better allocate the household budget as well as feed their families with more nutritious food,” he says. “One of the biggest links between poverty reduction and malnutrition is directly related the status of women.”
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