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Food Security

Africa experienced widespread food shortages in 2005. In Niger, 3.6 million people were faced with starvation (Gosline 2005). By
December, some 27 other countries were facing food emergencies (FAO/GIEWS 2005). In southern Africa ten million people suffered food shortages, 22 million in central Africa, and ten million in Ethiopia alone (Banton 2005). The region’s food insecurity was largely attributed to droughts and pests, exacerbated by poverty, conflict, refugee situations and soil degradation. In the Sahel region, particularly Mauritania, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, food shortages were due to a combination of drought and
crop destruction by locusts in 2004. Drought continued to affect much of southern Africa. Only South Africa was able to produce a
surplus of the staple food, maize. The rest of the sub-region had a deficit of 3.1 million tonnes as of August 2005 (SADC 2005).

Maize crop in Swaziland stunted by drought.
Source: Neil Cooper/Still Pictures

Drought also affected East Africa, causing food shortages from Tanzania to the Horn of Africa, which is in its sixth year of severe
drought (Geotimes 2005). The region’s food shortages were worsened by poverty and the inability of individuals and countries to produce or buy sufficient food. The number of people living on less than US$1 per day in the region is estimated at 313 million (UNDP 2005). Many farmers cannot afford the fertilizers, pesticides, and improved seeds and farming methods needed to increase agricultural productivity. As a result, the need for food aid has generally been increasing in Africa save for some good rainfall seasons (Figure 1). Despite widespread food shortages, there has been concern in Africa about accepting genetically modified (GM) food aid, on the grounds that the technology has not been fully tested for environmental or health effects. Of the world’s 81 million hectares under GM crops, Africa accounts for only 0.6 per cent, most of that in South Africa (Planet Ark 2005).

However, there is wide acknowledgement that GM technology has the potential to improve yields and quality of food crops,
resistance to pests and diseases, and adaptation to environmental stresses such as heat, drought and salinity. Conflict contributed to food insecurity in the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. In Darfur alone, as many as 2.1 million conflict-affected people were dependent on food aid in June 2005 (USAID 2005), while in Somalia one million people – affected by several years of drought, floods, and recurrent civil unrest – continued to require humanitarian assistance (FEWSNET 2005). Poor soil fertility and soil erosion are also blamed for declining crop yields and per capita food production in much of sub-Saharan Africa (Box 1). About 65 per cent of Africa’s population is affected by land degradation, and over three per cent of agricultural GDP is lost each year to soil and nutrient loss. “Land degradation marginalizes efforts to secure Africa’s longterm food security, economic growth, rural land-use productivity, and ecosystem services,” explains
Warren Evans, World Bank Director of Environment (TerrAfrica 2005).

Drought affected areas in Africa in 2005.
Source: NASA

Given the region’s vulnerability to food insecurity, sub-regional famine early warning systems are in place to provide timely
information on food supply, market prices and disaster preparedness. The region has also put in place Africa’s Strategic Plan of
Action for Agriculture and Food Security Promotion, which is complemented by subregionalinitiatives (SADC 2004).

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