Improving the Agricultural Sector in Africa to Boost Food Security and Nutrition

April 17, 2015

By Guy Kamdem Kouam, The Hunger Project

As UN Member States discuss the post 2015 Development Agenda, attention is being placed on key priorities for the implementation of the SDGs. Food security and nutrition are increasingly raised given the direct linkages with agriculture to ensure improved access, incomes, and health. Africa, is home to the second highest number of hungry people on the planet, due strongly to an underdeveloped agricultural sector. It is necessary to operate a structural change in the sector to shift from current subsistence-oriented farming to modern, industrialized and more climate resilient practices.

Photo courtesy of FAO

Photo courtesy of FAO

Though subsistence agriculture is a source of livelihood for millions of Africans, it is labor intensive and despite low output and income yields. Many African farmers continue to practice “shifting cultivation” on small plots of land with traditional – more so archaic – tools such as short-handed hoes, or sometimes only bare hands. Such traditional agricultural techniques are inefficient and responsible for the degradation of soils. Coupled with deforestation and climate change, subsistence farming cannot sustainably meet the nutritional needs of current and future populations in Africa.

Scaling up irrigation projects will also help to boost agricultural production. If distributed more evenly, Africa’s ample water resources can be used to compensate for insufficient rainfall. More extensive access to and use of irrigation will increase African farmers’ resilience to climate change and help yield extra food to prevent future shortages.

Mechanization is also critical for improving food security and nutrition in Africa as it can help boost production and create opportunity. Access to modern agricultural equipment or more recent technological innovations will reduce reliance on physical and animal labor to expand production possibilities. Resulting diversity of crops will allow farmers to be more competitive in markets and make African states more prominent in international food markets.

Without increases in agricultural production, Africa’s food supply will not keep up with demand and will strain already impoverished persons as prices

Photo courtesy of Belvyna Global, Nigeria

Photo courtesy of Belvyna Global, Nigeria

“hike” beyond affordable amounts due to scarcity. This also poses a security risk. As a college student in Cameroon in February 2008, I personally witnessed an eruption of food riots due to high food prices. Thousands of people protested in the streets against increasing food prices and demanded that their right to food be protected by the government.

Africa is a continent with great agricultural potential. If agricultural techniques shift and access and affordability of modernized equipment occurs, it will be possible to eradicate hunger and poor nutrition by 2030. This will not only boost Africa’s economy, but will also preserve the inalienable human right to food – for all.