Food shortages, hunger, starvation and long-term food security are not new issues in Africa, nor elsewhere in the developing world. Food security means that all people, at all times, have both physical and economic access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
The most recent figures suggest that food security is far from a reality in Africa. 23% of the continent’s population – some 233 million people, most of them young – face dire hunger every day. This number also represents more than a quarter of the global figure for people who live with hunger bordering on starvation.
The geographical distribution of the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is uneven. Countries whose environmental conditions are least suitable for agriculture are severely at risk. So are those that have been subjected to prolonged periods of warfare or internal social conflict and poor governance. In more recent years, the broad impacts of global climate change and the prolonged effect of the current El Niño phenomenon have intensified the problem.
Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola and Mozambique are all at risk. South Africa will, in 2016, possibly cull some 800 000 head of cattle and import at least 300 000 tonnes of maize. As a result, this “old” topic has become increasingly important in current research and development.
It’s clear that economic growth is necessary to make progress in reducing poverty and hunger. But scientists have pointed out that economic growth alone won’t end hunger. Good policies and programmes are needed too. Scientists and researchers have a role to play in these initiatives. After all, substantial and reliable scientific knowledge is needed to implement any successful programmes.
Africa’s particular challenges
This understanding of science’s value in food security debates prompted South Africa’s National Science and Technology Forum to host a “Discussion Forum on Pulses and Food Security” in June 2016.
The meeting’s preliminary findings make a critical point: food is a necessity, but it’s also a product.