Earlier this month, away from the shadows of the Group of Eight and distinctly apart from its power and profile, African nations quietly entered a pact to make history.
At a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa, African ministers made a pledge to end hunger on the continent by 2025. They agreed on a raft of measures, from national policies to dedicated funding, with a hope and promise of unleashing an agriculture revolution Africa has desperately waited for decades without much success.
Through the Addis declaration, the African nations have committed to opening their doors to import ideas from countries like Brazil, China and Vietnam which have successfully tackled hunger. The summit also highlighted the need to share and learn from the progress made within Africa — in countries like Ethiopia, Niger and Malawi, where a number of community-based interventions have shown great results in addressing hunger and malnutrition.
The summit, jointly convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, has made a sincere attempt in acknowledging the complex dynamics of hunger underlining its links with malnutrition and recognizing the role of women who make 70 percent of agriculture workforce in Africa, and young people in the continent who can widen the use of technology in boosting production.
For a continent that has chronically battled hunger — where 240 million people, that is nearly one out of every four persons, are food insecure and where undernutrition is directly or indirectly responsible hundreds of thousands of child deaths every year — it is only too easy to dismiss this as yet another promise that is most likely to fail.
Yet, despite the huge burden of the languishing initiatives and unmet commitments, there is wave of confidence sweeping Africa today. From Ouagadougou to Addis Ababa — cities, suburbs, small towns and villages are experiencing a rapid transformation fuelled by an unprecedented growth in economy and wealth across the African nations. According to the World Bank, growth in Africa has been widespread, with more than a third of countries posting annual growth rates of at least 6 percent in 2012 and another 40 percent growing between 4 and 6 percent.
Even in the most impoverished of places, the economic activity has remained strong. There may not be enough food accessible to many, but mobile phone signals have reached the remotest of communities and selling cellular top-up cards has become a huge industry. The largely young population across Africa is driving the economic activity to new heights.
Despite its crises, Africa is undergoing a phenomenal transition. The future may still be unsure, but one thing becoming increasingly certain — the growing confidence among the African nations. It is this sentiment that can prove pivotal in how Africa can join up together to address its most critical issues, beginning with hunger and malnutrition.
Africa is the only region in the world that has seen hunger numbers grow since 1990. The impact of this is not just restricted to a huge human cost but also includes an enormous economic burden.
Hunger and undernutrition is estimated to generate costs of up to 11 percent for Africa’s public system. Mortality rate due to undernutrition has reduced the current workforce by up to 8 percent and cumulative losses associated with undernutrition are said to represent between 2 and 16 percent of the GDP in African countries.
It is now being widely acknowledged that to end hunger in Africa or almost anywhere in the world, it will not be enough to simply increase the production of food. Access to food requires more than just availability. There is a need to address the many inter-connected factors that keep people from being food secure, including malnutrition, poverty and persistent social and economic inequalities.
A significant milestone of the Addis declaration is opening the hunger challenge to nonstate actors such as the farmers’ bodies, private sector, civil society and academia, to widen the search for effective solutions. There are already some examples of innovation and new approach. Community development organization Plan International has successfully piloted community-based methods to tackle hunger and malnutrition in several places in Africa.
In the Sahel, Plan has used micro-finance groups of women such as the Village Savings and Loans Associations to make the food accessible in times of need and to prevent malnutrition. The benefits extend far beyond just mitigating hunger such as it can allow children to stay at school; it can prevent children from being forced into labour; and it can prevent girls becoming child brides as in many cases parents tend to marry girls early during drought periods to reduce their food burden.
Strong political leadership is a critical requirement in ending hunger. Brazil’s success story of ending hunger — shared at the summit by former president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva himself, is an example of how unwavering political commitment and leadership Is fundamental to ending hunger. A few countries are in Africa have already made significant progress. The FAO has recognized 11 African nations for meeting internationally agreed targets for halving the population of hungry people well before the 2015 deadline established by the Millennium Development Goals.
The “End Hunger in Africa” summit has set the scene for African governments to cover the rest of the continent and eventually ending hunger by 2025.
So, despite doubts and concerns, and a legacy of unmet promises, there is still hope for action in the African continent. Never before have the African nations enjoyed such economic strength and confidence to make change happen. The governments must now match it with political commitment and action. They must seize this chance to end hunger in Africa.
Davinder Kumar is an award-winning journalist, international development specialist and a Chevening Human Rights Scholar. He is currently based in Dakar as Plan International’s Head of Communications for West Africa.