Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Africa update: The food security 'death sentence' blighting millions of lives

CI's Cathy Rutivi lifts the lid on the horrendous food shortages which many Africans face - and outlines how the consumer movement is trying to help. 

The right to basic needs is still a far cry for most consumers in Africa. Access to basic essential services like water and food is still a constant problem.

Food security is a major issue here and even food sufficiency alone does not guarantee an end to hunger. There are many factors internal or external that can affect or alter the availability, affordability, quality and safety of food in different degrees.

A number of factors like war, natural disasters like floods or even drought and famine have often displaced people and left them without food.

There are many people who rely on humanitarian relief aid just to survive especially in the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions. Access to land for farming is also a critical issue in most countries in Africa as this also addresses food security.

Most countries in Sub Saharan Africa have seen a decline in national income due to the economic and financial crises, poor governance, corruption and wars.

This has resulted in people living in very hard and harsh economic environments with high unemployment and lack of service delivery for most services.

When you picture people in these situations what they are mostly concerned about is having just a meal a day, if they can find it. Even in countries like South Africa (SA) that are considered more developed than most developing countries in Africa, 12 million people go to bed hungry each night.

According to a recent published report by the University of Cape town’s African Food Security Unit Network: “There are children whose daily food is half a white bread sandwich” (in most cases it is just half a slice with no spread on it; just dry taken with water).

The implication of this is a death sentence, says Food Bank SA. The figures on the surveyed cities in South Africa showed 77% of households were either moderately or severely food insecure. Most analysts however believe the figures to be far higher than this.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, of the 870 million people worldwide who are chronically undernourished, 234 million of them live in Sub Saharan Africa .

The main problem is also access to adequate nutrition, not necessarily availability of food. People are too poor to afford to buy food and accessibility is also a major issue for people in rural areas where either markets or supermarkets are located far around urban areas.

Queuing for food at a school in Eastern Cape, South Africa
Picture by Shelley Christians; Image by: The times/Shelley Christians/Gallo Images
Most school feeding programmes like the one seen above in the picture are used as an intervention to ensure children receive at least a balanced meal of corn maize and bean soup.

Towards the end of last year in October 2013, I attended a food safety workshop on Early Warning Rapid Alert (EWRA) systems hosted by FAO in Rome, Italy.

It was a platform to share knowledge and experiences on early warning, rapid alert and horizon scanning systems.

It also served to generate concrete ideas on how FAO - in collaboration with other key partners  - could assist countries and regions to build early warning and rapid alert capacities in food safety and to benefit from global/regional horizon scanning as well as creating opportunities for collaboration.

The workshop discussions sought to answer critical questions that, given the many competing national priorities, to what extend are the EWRA systems in food safety a realistic priority for low to medium income countries, and, if not, how do we make them a priority?

A lot of food in these countries is lost in post-harvest activities from the farm before it reaches the markets. This results in food losses which also has a big impact on food security.

Over the years, consumer organisations in Africa have participated in national, regional and international food security programmes aimed at reducing poverty and hunger as well as collaborating with research NGOs/institutions and other global CI Members to establish the fundamental issues of the whole food chain (accessibility, affordability, availability and safety).

CI Africa will soon be working on a paper on Food Security, Nutrition and Safety in Africa to define a CI Africa agenda on the issue, including recommendations for consumer policy positions.

We would like to hear from our Members in Africa about their current country experiences regarding food security, nutrition and safety. Please share with us on our African Consumers International Facebook group or via Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Which are the African countries which have presently [strong] consumer associations which can defend the consumers' interest when it comes to Food Security, Nutrition and Safety in Africa? In the current value chain approach for agricultural research and the access of farmers to markets, the consumers' interests are systematically not represented.

    Francois Stepman
    European Co-manager
    Platform for African - European Partnership in ARD
    c/o CTA Brussels Office
    39 rue Montoyer. 1000 Brussels.
    Tel. 00-32-2 513 74 36
    Mobile: 00-32-474627686 (Belgium)