Hundreds of thousands of people could die of starvation if the extent of Africa's food security crisis is not recognised, says Isak Pretorius, CEO of the largest indigenous African non-governmental organisation, ForAfrika.
“The food crisis – and rising malnutrition – affecting our continent is real and pressing, and I urge people of conscience to rally behind the people of Africa,” he says.
In contrast to what is often reported, drought in Africa extends far beyond the Horn of Africa, and hundreds of thousands of people across Central and Southern Africa are at risk as a result of not enough food being produced in the region this year, says Killen Otieno, ForAfrika’s chief of operations.
Urgent aid is needed to prevent parts of the Horn of Africa region that encompasses Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland and Djibouti from sliding into famine, Otieno says. In addition, drought and heat stress are evident as far south as north-western Namibia, south-western Angola, northern and central Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar.
ForAfrika assisted more than 1.2-million people in South Sudan in 2021, and more than 903 000 in Angola, 50 000 in Uganda, 400 000 in Mozambique, 166 300 in South Africa and 500 in Rwanda in the same year. This assistance includes working with people to improve their ability to feed themselves.
“ForAfrika’s staff are Africans themselves. This is our home and we know what Africa’s people need to thrive. That is our vision – for Africa to thrive,” says Pretorius. “People can help us achieve this, through their donations.
“The crisis, which the Food and Agriculture Organization and the African Union (AU) estimate has affected 346-million people, is the result of a number of factors occurring at once. These include conflict, drought, flooding, the Covid-19 pandemic and rising prices due to the war in Ukraine,” he says.
While food insecurity in Africa is driven by recurring environmental, political and economic instability, and a concomitant breakdown in community support systems, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the situation by disrupting the global supply of wheat and other staples such as cooking oil, pushing up prices.
“Africa is home to low-income countries that are at risk of food insecurity, with the Ukraine war amplifying existing strains caused by two years of Covid-19 pandemic. With Russia and Ukraine being some of the world's leading fertiliser exporters, the crisis could deepen and stretch – impacting food production, availability and access, especially for the most vulnerable households,” Otieno says.
African governments also have a role to play in ensuring that a situation like the one now faced by so many countries across the continent is not repeated, says ForAfrika’s programmes manager for Uganda, Fred Mutenyo. Uganda is host to more refugees than any other African country, many of them displaced due to the drought in the Horn of Africa.
The food security crisis across Africa is worsening, yet only 30% to 40% of the continent’s arable land is used to grow food, and over the past 40 years Africa has been steadily losing its share of the global food market, says Mutenyo.
For the continent to regain its place in world food systems, governments across Africa need to invest in agriculture and in agricultural technologies that help farmers improve their rate of production and adapt to and mitigate against the effects of climate change, he says. The continent has the potential, in fact, to exceed its highest previous production levels, producing enough to feed its population of 1.2-billion and to export food.
Boosting food security is one of ForAfrika’s priorities, especially as getting this right can improve people’s lives in a variety of ways. If people can produce a surplus of food, they can improve their own nutrition, and they can earn money by selling the food, which can be used to improve their education, health and general well-being.
ForAfrika supports household food production by teaching intensive agronomic practices that boost production volumes and nutrition, providing farmers with good seed stock, and promoting climate-smart technology that helps farmers mitigate against and adapt to the effects of climate change. These climate-smart technologies include solar-powered irrigation, using seeds known for good germination rates, and a variety of water and soil conservation techniques.
It is well known that, despite Africa contributing the least to climate change, it is the continent most vulnerable to it. A large contributing factor to this situation is that most African agriculture (95%, according to the African Development Bank) is rain-fed and that agriculture employs a large percentage of the overall population.
The recent record temperatures experienced across Europe show climate change is having real effects on populations worldwide. While this phenomenon is a large threat to Africa’s future sustainability, if the continent’s governments work together, climate change could also provide a catalyst for the continent to use its resources to plot a new path to a better future for its people, and to achieve the targets of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.