Story by Zephania Ubwani
Drought alone is not to blame for the worsening food crisis in Africa, a study has shown. Low or underinvestment in agriculture is also behind the prevalent hunger threatening the lives of over 20 million souls. The severe hunger African people are facing today could also be a direct result of “inadequate political choices”.
A report released by Oxfam, a humanitarian organization, said agricultural budgets in Africa have drastically gone down. The report released as the African leaders were meeting in Addis Ababa said the situation was alarming this time around.
More than 20 million people across the continent are facing starvation in 2023, a year the African Union has designated as the ‘Year of Nutrition’.
It said nearly three-quarters of African governments reduced their agricultural budgets while almost doubling spending on arms. “The hunger African people are facing today is a direct result of inadequate political choices,” said Fati N’Z-Hassane, Oxfam in Africa director. She attributed lingering underinvestment in agriculture as a key cause of the prevalent hunger experienced in Africa from last year.
According to her, the majority of African states (48 out of 55) reportedly spend an average of 3.8 per cent of their budgets on agriculture – some spending as little as one per cent.
Nearly three-quarters of these governments have reduced their share of the budget spent on agriculture since 2019. That was enough indication that many African countries had failed to honour their Malabo commitments to invest at least 10 per cent of their budget in agriculture.
In contrast, Ms Hassane explained, African governments spent nearly double that budget (6.4 per cent) on arms last year. The armed conflicts, especially in the Sahel region and Central Africa, have worsened the food crisis “as farmland is destroyed, fueling hunger”.
A gender advocacy organisation in Africa, echoed, saying that production of staple food like cereals dropped last year in much of Africa.
That was despite the fact that the continent possesses nearly a quarter of the world’s agricultural land, the gender lobby said.
The lobby called Africa Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet) gave grim statistics on the food security status in Africa.
Today a fifth of the African population-278 million people- are undernourished while 55 million of its children under the age of five are stunted due to severe malnutrition.
However, the organization based in Kenya, insisted that unfavourable weather had its role for the food crisis seen in Africa this time around.
“Worsening climate-fuelled droughts and floods, and a global rise in fuel and fertilizers prices, made food unobtainable for millions of people” said Ms Memory Kachambwa, Femnet executive director.
In 2022 alone, food inflation rose by double digits in all but ten African countries. During the rainy season, they did not have money to pay for fertilizers. She said in a report circulated during the just-ended AU summit in Addis Ababa that there had not been much government support to small-scalesmall-scale farmers in Africa.
“With no major government support to farmers – particularly women small scale farmers – or adequate climate adaptation, production of staple food like cereals fell last year,” she said.
She added that women were the victims in the food crisis matrix in that they spent about 60 percent of their time on agricultural activities. Women continue to be subdued by unfavourable climatic conditions” she said, suggesting that they must be at the centre of climate adaptation “because they are affected the most”.
The report said smallholder farmers in Africa, who are vital food producers, were on the losing end in ensuring food security. “They cannot reach markets in neighbouring countries due to poor infrastructure and high intra-African tariffs. “Many African nations find it cheaper to import food from outside the continent than from their next-door neighbour,” went on.
The two bodies urged the African leaders to take serious steps to free up intra-continental trade to help local farmers. They must equally support the communities to cope with recurrent climatic shocks.