Rising Above Hunger: Urgent Call for Africa’s Optimism to Fight Hunger

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By FAO Director-General Graziano da Silva ahead of Africa Regional Conference in Khartoum, Sudan

An African proverb says that “wisdom is like a baobab tree – no one individual can embrace it.” The same can be applied to the fight against hunger in Africa. Collective action is fundamental to achieve the aim of the Malabo Declaration (end hunger by 2025), as well as that of the Sustainable Development Goal number 2 (eradicating hunger and all forms of malnutrition and promote sustainable agriculture).  

Today February 19- 23, 2018 in Khartoum, Sudan, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO} is convening the 30th Regional Conference for Africa, where African ministers and other stakeholders will meet to review the achievements, challenges and priorities on the sustainable development of agriculture and food systems. It is encouraging that some parts of the continent have made some significant progress, but significant challenges remain for all.

The 2017 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report points out that the number of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 was about 224 million, an increase of 24 million compared to 2015. This means that 23% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, almost one out of four African people, was undernourished. However, compared with the percentage of undernourishment registered in 2000 – 28% – the numbers still show a relative decrease.

The increase of hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 is directly linked to conflicts and the impacts of climate change, such as the prolonged drought that affected the rural areas of many countries. Low levels of productivity, weak value-chains and high levels of vulnerability to crises have also contributed to negatively affect food and agriculture systems and rural livelihoods, especially in relation to the poorest people.

It is also important to bear in mind that the SDG 2 calls for the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. And this is for a reason. Today we are facing a global epidemic of overweight and obesity.

The situation is also worrisome here in Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 30% of adults in Africa are overweight. Obesity rates are nearing 10% in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Furthermore, about 41 million children in the world under five years old are overweight. A quarter of these children live in Africa.

Rapid urbanization and the consumption of highly processed foods are the major drivers behind this increase in overweight and obesity. People are often unaware that certain foods are unhealthy, and they do not see being overweight as a problem.

The challenge is how to promote healthy diets when urbanization is stimulating a dietary transition towards more processed food. So countries need to act in two fronts: production and consumption of healthy food. This includes the advertisement and information of food products. People must be aware about the pros and cons of what they are eating, and also be encouraged to eat healthy food.

Bringing Africa’s Youth to the Forefront

Youth employment remains a biting challenge in the region. Estimates foresee that people aged 15 to 24 years in Sub-Saharan Africa will increase by more than 90 million by 2030, and most will be in rural areas. Getting this growing number of young people into decent jobs is not just essential for their personal future, but for the future of the continent. 

The majority of Africa’s rural youth are in the informal economy as contributing family workers, subsistence farmers, home-based micro-entrepreneurs or unskilled workers. They typically earn low wages, work under casual or seasonal arrangements, and face unsafe, often exploitative working conditions that compel many to migrate to urban areas.

Farm and non-farm activities hold enormous potential for unemployed African youth. But more effort is needed to transform rural economies. Successful, inclusive transformations encourage agricultural productivity growth, a shift of people and resources from agriculture towards manufacturing, industry and services, and massive increases in per capita income, as well as steep reductions in poverty and hunger.

Keeping Track of Zero Hunger

We still have good reasons to be optimistic and believe that eradicating hunger by 2030 is still possible.

Political will has not evaporated. It has in fact been reinforced. The United Nations, led by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has increased its focus on the impacts of conflicts through peacekeeping operations. 

In relation to climate change, there is currently in place the Green Climate Fund. Developing countries will have access to the necessary resources to implement climate-smart practices for adaptation to a changing climate.

Furthermore, there are strong signs that the world economy is recovering and this will create favorable conditions for development.

On the margins of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa a few weeks ago, I addressed heads of state and government and reaffirmed that achieving Zero Hunger is possible. Stronger commitment by governments, the private sector, civil society, the African Union and the United Nations is needed to promote peace, human rights and sustainable development.

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