A total of 842 million people in 2011–2013, which is around one in eight people in the world were estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not able to meet their dietary requirements or not getting enough food to conduct an active and healthy life. Africa however, remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, with around one in four people estimated to be undernourished. Levels and trends in undernourishment vary from country to country (FAO, 2013: 8-10).
This paper focuses on the Southern African Development Community (SADC), with the objective to stimulate discussions on the regional approaches to food security. It will discuss respectively the issues of; food insecurity in the SADC region, why this region is faced with food insecurity, which countries have the highest prevalence of food insecurity and also what solutions or policies the region has formulated to save the region from being food insecure or to achieve food security.
Food insecurity is defined as a situation when people lack sustainable physical or economic access to enough safe, healthy, and socially acceptable food for a healthy and productive life. Food insecurity may be chronic, seasonal, or temporary (Clemens, 2011). Food insecurity may also result in severe social, psychological, and behavioural consequences.
Mwaniki (2006:1) argues that the root cause of food insecurity in developing countries is the inability of people to gain access to food due to poverty. While the rest of the world has made significant progress towards poverty alleviation, Africa, continues to lag behind. Studies show that this will continue to be an ongoing problem unless preventive measures are put in place. Many factors have contributed to this problem of food insecurity in the African continent including the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS; civil war, poor governance, frequent drought and agricultural dependency on the climate and environment (Mwaniki, 2006: 1). This author further identifies five main challenges resulting in food insecurity in many African countries (including the SADC), namely; an underdeveloped agricultural sector, barriers to market areas, effects of globalization, disease and infections, and lastly poor policies.
The prevalence of food insecurity in the Southern African countries is not the same. This is due to the fact that different countries experience different shortfalls in terms of agricultural production due to climate change (drought) and policy failures. Consequently, both international and regional organizations have come together to assess the impacts of these failures in order to better understand the nature of the problem they are dealing with so that they can formulate appropriate actions towards building a hunger-free society.
As mentioned earlier that food insecurity varies from place to place, The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) identifies five southern African countries that are affected with food insecurity challenges, namely Angola, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe (Dzinesa and Sangqu, 2014). In these countries governments are trying to implement measures to address food insecurity. In July 2013, Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment estimated that out of the total population of 13.1 million, 2.21 million were food insecure which is 32% increase from 2012. In July 2013 780 000 out of 2.1 million Namibian people were food insecure. 1.5 million People in Malawi and 3.9 million people in Madasgascar were also food insecure (Dzinesa and Sangqu, 2014). However, some SADC countries have formulated polices and poverty reduction strategies.
Achieving food security in its totality continues to be a challenge not only for the developing nations, but also for the developed world (Mwaniki, 2006). Therefore, even though the estimated number of undernourished people in the world is continuing to decrease, the rate of progress seems to be insufficient to reach international goals for hunger reduction. Two international targets to assess the success against food insecurity are; Food World Summit (FWS) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) where the former targeted to halve the number of hungry people whereas the latter targeted to halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population. It is however argued that the targets of MDGs are less ambitious compared to those of the Food World Summit (FAO, 2013:9).
Food insecurity problems in the SADC cannot be solved using a uniform solution because the difference lies in the extent of the problem in terms of its weightiness as well as the proportion of the population affected. For example, developed countries alleviate this problem by providing targeted food security interventions, including food aid in the form of direct food relief, food stamps, or indirectly through subsidized food production. These efforts have significantly reduced food insecurity in these regions. Similar approaches are employed in developing countries but with less success (FAO, 2013). This could be due to (among other factors) insufficient resources and shorter duration of intervention.
Mwaniki (2006:5), proposes the following interventions to be adopted: Nutritional interventions, facilitating market access, capacity building, gender sensitive development, building on coping strategies, creating off- farm opportunities and good governance. Different countries in the SADC have implemented different intervention programmes to address poverty and food insecurity. For example, South Africa implemented programmes such as the RDP as well social security through social grants among many other measures to alleviate poverty.
Many interventions have been carried out by the SADC to alleviate food insecurity in this region. Research also remains as one of the key to solutions in this challenge. Among many other interventions, the SADC has identified the University of KwaZulu- Natal (UKZN) Africa Centre for Food Security (ACFS) as a Centre of Excellence in Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (VAA). The overall objective of Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis is to provide the necessary skills to practitioners who carry out vulnerability assessment activities and build much needed analytical capacity.
Among other interventions of the SADC in addressing food insecurity there is also the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP) that aims to support and promote actions at national and regional levels in the agricultural sector to achieve the SADC common agenda on food insecurity (Dzinesa and Sangqu, 2014).
The solution mainly lies in increasing food availability, food access and food adequacy for all. As the food insecurity in Africa is directly linked with poverty, it is necessary to not only alleviate poverty but also create wealth for the target population. The key lies in mutually honest intentions from multi-stakeholders to ensure that all is done with the sole purpose of benefiting all.
In conclusion, the fact that we are able to discuss food security in Africa, and that there are many resources available that address the topic, is evidence that there are solutions as well. For it to become a reality, we should facilitate African leadership to take ownership of and responsibility for Africa's development agenda.
It is however, very important to consider that SADC countries are very different and it would be realistic and useful to build the regional food security compact and investment plan around: different cooperation areas that are progressing at differentiated gears; and different sub-groups of SADC countries which already cooperate well in specific areas (or are likely to) and do have in place a series of programmatic cooperation initiatives.
Ms Zanele Ntimbane holds an Honours degree in Development studies from University of KwaZulu- Natal (Howard College Campus).
1. Mwaniki, A. (2006). Achieving Food Security in Africa: Challenges and Issues. Cornel University Publishers. United States.
2. Dzinesa, G. and Sangqu, S. (2014). Institute for Security Studies. http://www.issafrica.org/iss-today/food-insecurity-southern-africas-silent-crisis. Accessed on 04 March 2015.
3. Clemens, J. (2011). What Does Food Security Mean? http://www.feedingamerica.org. Accessed on 04 March 2015.
4. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), (2013). The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013: The multiple dimensions of food security. Rome, FAO.