What you need to know:
- As the increasingly extreme weather patterns that threaten farmers and food security across the continent gain momentum, aid efforts attempting to address the primary cause of food insecurity tend to fall short.
- Globally, roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. In developing countries, most of which are in Africa, this is usually the fault of inadequate and inefficient storage infrastructure. With this, there are pest infestations and mould-ruined crops which leads to food waste.
On the outskirts of Nairobi in Dagoretti South, a smallholder farmer decries the problems of climate change. Expensive farm inputs, high labour costs and the long wait for harvests that never come have become the norm for Simon Maina, who still tries to provide for his family off his small piece of land surrounded by informal settlements.
Such land is valuable ground for farmers specialising in growing vegetables that are in high demand in Nairobi. Simon, however, has not adopted any techniques that would help him make his land more productive. The borehole on the property — a common feature in many homes in the area — is only used for household water consumption. Simon does not even grow backyard vegetables for his own kitchen.
“I do not know how to make this land more productive without the rains. What I have seen in other places is expensive to implement and I don’t have the money. Those who are making it in farming have big lands where they are even rearing animals. I don’t have the space, so I can’t afford to even use manure. Mostly I spend my money buying seeds and fertilisers but now it has become a loss-making venture since I have not had a harvest for years. Farming is not sustainable here.”
In the same neighbourhood, Cũcũ wa Maziwa, or ‘the milk granny’ as she is popularly known, has the same challenges but a very different outlook. She has leased some land a few kilometers away from her home, where she grows food and fodder. She has converted the open space at her home into a vegetable garden with collard greens and kale that she sells to her neighbours throughout the year.
She also grows tomatoes, carrots and some indigenous vegetables. She uses her well for irrigation and watering her cows, providing manure for her vegetable garden and the land she leases. An organic farmer well known for the quality of her farm produce, the milk granny lives a comfortable farm life on the income she makes.
Tens of kilometres away, Njeri Wa Njenga and her husband Njenga Ngigĩ, both in their nineties, have never needed government assistance for food. But Njeri, a former Mau Mau fighter, and Njenga, a former driver who remembers when Kenya was still largely virgin land with abundant food, are despairing of the increasing hunger they have witnessed in Kenya’s rural communities over the course of their 90+ years.
Njeri says it is now common for people to rely on government food aid. The legacy of colonialism, poverty, inadequate infrastructure, political instability and climate change are largely to blame for the consistent food crises in Africa.Colonial agricultural production systems took advantage of fertile land, water and low labour costs to meet the export needs of Global North industries and consumers. This legacy has had a fundamental influence on hunger in Africa.
As the increasingly extreme weather patterns that threaten farmers and food security across the continent gain momentum, aid efforts attempting to address the primary cause of food insecurity tend to fall short. Globally, roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. In developing countries, most of which are in Africa, this is usually the fault of inadequate and inefficient storage infrastructure. With this, there are pest infestations and mould-ruined crops which leads to food waste.
For all these causes of hunger in Africa, political conflict is the primary driver of food scarcity. A recent African Centre for Strategic Studies reportpoints out that more than 80 percent of Africans experiencing acute food insecurity are in conflict-affected areas.
Political instability and conflict tend to trigger long-term food shortages that are exacerbated by disasters like droughts and flooding. With the foregoing, food insecurity across Africa will continue to increase. The only way out is to implement strategies to improve Africa’s food security. Investing in agriculture as per the Malabo declaration will help Africa have a better chance at improving food security even as climate change worsens.