Rapid urbanization, a youth bulge, an expanding middle class are the hallmarks of Africa’s unprecedented transformation. Some of the world’s fastest growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa. According to most western leaders and aid agencies the state of Africa is no longer “a scar on the conscience of the world”.
Africa’s unprecedented transformation is also spawning new and urgent challenges, many of which defy conventional approaches and solutions. Despite impressive average GDP growth performance Africa is stalked by hunger and malnutrition. It is estimated that the number of malnourished Africans will rise from 132 million to 220 million by 2050.
The scale of hunger and malnutrition could undermine human capital formation and economic growth prospects. The Cost of Hunger in Africa study of 12 countries estimates that Egypt has 1.9 percent cut from its GDP because not all of its children get enough to eat, while Uganda loses 5.6 percent, Ghana 6.5 per cent and Ethiopia a staggering 16.5 percent.
According to the latest Cost of Hunger report released in Accra early August 24 percent of child deaths in Ghana were associated with under nutrition, which had also reduced the country’s work force by 7.3 percent. Moreover, it is estimated that under-nutrition causes 45% of all child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa – 3.1 million deaths annually.
At the heart of Africa’s hunger and under nutrition challenge is its dysfunctional food systems – the interdependent socio-economic and ecological factors that influence production, post-harvest handling, distribution, processing, marketing, access and consumption. Africa has the lowest per capita staple food production in the world. The use of modern inputs, including technology, irrigation, fertilizers, and improved seeds is uncommon.
Africa’s small rural farm units rely on family labor; have limited access to advisory services, technology or improved inputs. These remote small-scale production units are often isolated and poorly connected to supporting services, such as decent roads, healthcare and markets. According to FAO the average age of the African smallholder farmer is about 60 and mostly women, even though the median age of the population is about 19 years. Small-scale farm households in many parts of Africa are often food and nutrition insecure between 6-9 months a year.
Food security and good nutrition is the cornerstone of healthy communities and economies. Without adequate and nutritious food African children cannot live, learn, flourish and communities cannot achieve their aspirations of inclusive socio-economic prosperity.
Africa must begin to invest to revitalize smallholder agriculture and as foundation for durable and inclusive prosperity. Such investment must target and respond to critical constraints especially in production, post-harvest handling, value addition, use of technology, markets and equitable access to nutritious food.
African governments, the African Development Bank and the World Bank must lead this effort and appreciate that, structural transformation, sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity in Africa will not the delivered by multi-billion infrastructure projects alone.
Thriving smallholder agriculture can revitalize rural economies, provide stable income and secure livelihoods for women and youth, drive real economic transformation and deliver inclusive prosperity.