Whenever I think of food security in Africa, one insightful proverb comes to mind – “there is honey but no bees”. This self-explanatory proverb implies that the solutions to achieving Africa’s food security are like unprotected honey. They are accessible and not exotic. But just as we know, “he who doesn’t find his way back from the forest gets lost within it”– if we fail to apply ourselves towards unlocking these solutions, regardless of how accessible they are, they will keep eluding us.
One critical yet often overlooked aspect of Africa’s food security is that achieving food security in Africa requires us to go beyond the traditional narrative of increasing food production. What is needed more urgently can be categorised into two.
The first is eliminating the inefficiencies along the entire agro-value chain – both on-farm and off-farm value chain. And these inefficiencies are three-fold – postharvest losses, losses in potential food arising from ecological degradation, and losses in likely food arising from climate change effects.
The second is unlocking socioeconomic opportunities by eliminating these inefficiencies. Agriculture in Africa goes beyond being a source of food. It is the most inclusive sector that provides livelihoods for over 60% of the population and contributes over 30 – 40% of GDP in most countries. And this is looking at the farm-level production alone. If we inject value addition, the forward and backward linkages between agriculture and other sectors can unlock additional jobs and income opportunities in several industries.
The third is that if we combat climate change, the region will recoup up to 40% in potential yields of essential staples currently being lost and safeguard the nutritional quality of food threatened by higher CO2 concentrations. If we combat ecological degradation, the region will recoup up to $65billion. Taking action against soil-erosion-induced nutrient depletion alone will yield the continent an additional $62.4billion annually, translating to a 5.3% contribution to economic growth each year up to 2030.
My point is that food security goes beyond agricultural production. Post-Harvest losses in most African countries are hundreds of millions of dollars, representing lost competitiveness and inclusive wealth, job, and enterprise opportunities that these countries can ill afford. The continent has slipped to become a net food importer, spending over $35 billion yearly on food importation. To make matters worse, the statistics are telling. Cumulatively, $48billion. This means all African countries produce enough food, but we know how the story goes.
Just take a moment and imagine how much $48 billion is. This is what Africa loses each year due Post Harvest Losses. The point is simple: Producing at the farm level and increasing yields alone is not enough, and this is where Africa always misses the point as deliberate attempts are made to lock them down at the bottom of the pyramid.
To get out of this quagmire, the answer is just two words – “value addition”.
Cassava, a typical example of what I call Africa’s gold, is a climate-resilient crop. Adding value to cassava offers an opportunity to develop over 300 diverse product lines and tap a lucrative over $20 billion a year allergen-free foods market. The over 300 products derived from cassava will only happen if the value is added. Food security can only be realised with a deliberate paradigm shift from prioritising “increasing production” toward prioritising value addition. This will reverse the continent’s high postharvest losses (PHLs), convert them into additional product lines and increase earnings. The first step in this paradigm shift is decentralising clean energy solutions directly to power various levels of value addition and convert losses into incomes.
For example, Cameroon registers up to 25% of total annual post-harvest losses across diverse value chains. These manifest as lost income opportunities that can be recouped to create multiple income opportunities. For example, recouping rice PHLs translates to CFA 4 billion in income opportunities. This is just one example. It has been empirically shown that decentralising simple climate action solutions of affordable solar dryers enable market traders to increase the shelf life of their perishables and ensure better quality and cleaner rice fetches in the market.
This is just a simple example – but it passes the message –let us remember one fundamental aspect – achieving food security in Africa goes beyond classical increasing production. It is more about converting inefficiencies in this sector into income and enterprise opportunities for the many.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of his affiliated institution.
Dr Richard Munang is a climate change and development expert and author of ‘Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism.‘ Follow him on Twitter: @RichardMunang