Smart Interventions for Food Security in Africa

This post is dedicated to World Food Day and written for Blog Action Day (#bad11), a movement that aims to start a global discussion through thousands of blogs posts. This year’s topic is everything FOOD related!

Here is my contribution to the global discussion:

Over the next 40 years, agriculture will have to carry out an enormous task:

* feeding an extra three billion mouths as global population rises from six to nine billion;
* feeding the 854 million human beings who now suffer hunger and malnutrition. (FAO).

Food security is a situation in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active healthy life (El-Hage Scialabba, Page 2). The security of food is affected by a number of factors, including an unstable social and political environment that preclude sustainable economic growth, war and civil strive, macroeconomic imbalances in trade, natural resource constraints, poor human resource base, gender inequality, inadequate education, poor health, natural disasters, such as floods and locust infestation, and the absence of good governance. All these factors contribute to either insufficient national food availability or insufficient access to food by households and individuals.

The root cause of food insecurity in developing countries is the inability of people to gain access to food due to poverty. Seventy-five percent of the world’s 1.2 billion poor live in rural areas of developing countries (Mwaniki, Page 3). They suffer from problems associated with subsistence production in isolated and marginal locations with low levels of technology. These subsistence and livelihood systems are risk-prone to drought and floods, crop and animal diseases, and market shocks. Sub-Sahara Africa remains the most food insecure region in the world, with 206 million hungry people. The share of hungry people declined from 35 to 32 percent during the last decade (El-Hage Scialabba, Page 3).

Flooded Crops due to Unpredictable Rains

Over seventy percent of the food insecure population in Africa lives in the rural areas. Ironically, smallholder farmers, the producers of over 90 percent of the continent’s food supply, make up the majority (50 percent) of this population. In countries where more than 34 percent of the population is undernourished, agriculture represents 30 percent of GDP and nearly 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood (Mwaniki, Pages 4-7).

Taken from the Nadia El-Hage Scialabba Report entitled “Can Africa Feed Itself?”

An Underdeveloped Agricultural Sector in Africa

A major challenge to food security in Africa is its underdeveloped agricultural sector that is characterized by over-reliance on primary agriculture, low fertility soils, minimal use of external farm inputs, environmental degradation, significant food crop loss both pre- and post- harvest, minimal value addition and product differentiation, and inadequate food storage an preservation that result in significant commodity price fluctuation (El-Hage Scialabba, Page 7). Ninety five percent of the food in sub-Saharan Africa is grown under rain fed agriculture (Mwaniki, Pages 7). Making food production vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. There is an overall decline in farm input investment including fertilizers, seeds, and technology adoption. Moreover, the soils continue to degrade leading to a reduction in the productivity of the farms.

Case Study: Ghana’s Agricultural Sector

Ghana faces the challenge of making substantial progress in food security because average yields over the years have remained stagnant. Commercial food imports and food aid have constituted about 4.7 per cent of food needs in the last fifteen years (FASDEP II). Rainfall is a major determinant in the annual fluctuations of household and national food output. This creates food insecurity at household levels, which can be transitory in poor communities and chronic in distressed areas.

Ghanaian farmer participating in National Level Programs

While Ghana can be classified as generally food secure, food-insecure populations exist in all regions because of resource limitations and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities. Malnutrition is a serious problem among children, adolescents and pregnant women due to insufficient levels of food intake and or diets not providing an adequate nutritional intake. Results from the 2003 Ghana Demographic Health Survey (GDHS) indicate that malnutrition contributes 40% to mortality among children less than 5 years. In spite of the improvements the rate of wasting is 3.5 times that expected in a healthy population while the proportion of under-weight children is 11 times the level expected in a well nourished population (FASDEP II).

In high population density areas, such as the Upper East Region, the situation is cyclical and severe for three to five months each year (FASDEP II). There are regional disparities in food insecurity due to seasonal food deficits in the three northern regions.

Near Bolga, Upper East Region, Ghana

For most households, hunger is frequently associated with poor harvests resulting from environmental degradation, poor weather, natural disasters, or conflict. Gender is also an important dimension of poverty, especially in northern Ghana where there is a sharp disparity between the income-earning opportunities of women and men.

Although the objective of attaining food security in Ghana is national, it is the poor that are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Food Security Interventions in Ghana

How can Ghana achieve food security? The solution lies in increasing food availability, food access and food adequacy for all. Because the food insecurity in Africa is directly correlated with poverty, it is necessary to not only alleviate poverty, but also create wealth for the target population.

The national vision for the food and agriculture sector in Ghana is modernised agriculture culminating in a structurally transformed economy that is evident in food security, employment opportunities and reduced poverty. In 2002, member countries of the African Union (AU) pledged to allocate at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources for implementation of CAADP’s seven part vision for modernised agriculture (FASDEP II). The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has, in turn, developed an ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) to address food security in the sub-region in conformity with existing regional and international commitments. Programme objectives include increased food production and income generation, increased inter-country trade, strengthened producers’ organisations and greater involvement of women in socio-economic decisions that affect household livelihood opportunities (FASDEP II).

The broad national strategy for the attainment of food security is to focus at the national and agro-ecological levels on the development of at most five staple crops (maize, rice, yam, cassava and cowpea) (FASDEP II). The commodities will receive support in terms of irrigation and sustainable management of land, improved planting materials, and appropriate mechanisation, to enhance productivity along the whole value chain.

The specific strategies for the attainment of food security and emergency preparedness are:
• Develop appropriate irrigation schemes for different categories of farmers to ensure production throughout the year.
• Introduce high-yielding and short-duration crops varieties.
• Develop effective post-harvest management strategies, particularly storage facilities, at individual and community levels.
• Liaise with the Ministry of Transportation for road transport and the Ministry of Harbours and Railways to improve accessibility and facilitate the distribution of crops.
• Target the vulnerable in agriculture, with special programmes that will enhance their diversification opportunities, reduce risk and enhance their access to productive resources.
• Enhance nutrition through coordination of programmes and institutions for food security, dissemination of nutrition and health information, and advocacy for food fortification.
• Strengthen early warning systems and put in place emergency preparedness and disaster management scheme, including contingency planning to ensure access of the poor to food during disasters.
• Establish strategic stocks to support emergency preparedness.
• Advocate for improved legal and policy frameworks for collaboration between institutions responsible for disaster management.

One half of rice farm the farmers did not adopt current technology – Damongo, Ghana

For this reason, coordination role of Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) as the lead agency for the development of the sector will be central in the implementation of policies. Greater devolution of responsibilities to the regional and district levels will also be pursued. MOFA defines food security as “good quality nutritious food, hygienically packaged and attractively presented, available in sufficient quantities all year round and located at the appropriate places at affordable prices” (FASDEP II). The element of food safety will be a concern in Ghana’s pursuit of food security.

Engineers Without Border’s (EWB) Interventions – How I am working towards food security in Ghana

A recent study of extension practices and adoption of agricultural technologies across Ghana revealed that while the vast majority of farmers (over 90%) may be aware of modernised technologies, actual adoption rates are still relatively low (Kwarteng et al., Page 3). This correlates well with our own observations from spending time working in district Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) offices. The same study also concludes that farmers receive the majority of their agricultural knowledge from MOFA’s Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) with secondary learning from fellow farmers (Kwarteng et al.). This suggests the main problem we should be tackling relates to actual adoption strategies as opposed to the spread of technical information.

Getting my hands dirty with roots and tubers – preparing for yam minisetts

By better understanding the question of why farmers adopt certain technologies and taking a farmer-first approach we hope to influence MOFA’s ability in how they promote them to benefit the farmers’s yields for the reduction of poverty and security of food.

How we will do this:

• We’ll use the McKinsey Influence Model to target and organize our learning:

• We’ll combine our own observations from the field, knowledge gained from other EWB teams and partners, and published literature to ensure a broad perspective in our understanding.
• We’ll keep in mind the social or other ‘irrational’ factors that may limit the spread of technologies and not solely focus on the rational farmer model.

Our current prototypes and what they are influencing:
– Using videos to market technologies: Conviction
– Using pictorial contracts to increase in-kind payments: Understanding
– Testing peer-to-peer farmer learning: Legitimacy
– Testing demand driven extension systems: Relevance and conviction
– Testing a contact farmer assessment tool: Ineffective use of resources

One day I will learn how to drive one – it is not currently the right season

From previous experience, we know how difficult it is to scale up a project within the MOFA system, but we are collaborating and experimenting with staff to see what innovations are going to work in the long term.

Conclusion – How does this relate to food security?

MOFA is a major player in the implementation of national level policy through district activities and projects. We believe that improving the service provision of the Ministry through participatory capacity building and acting as an advocate for farmers’ perspective are necessary factors for food security. Our mission is to bring a farmer-first approach to extension services that are meant to progress the technology adoption rates of farmers. The research has concluded that the extension is doing a sufficient job in disseminating information, as the majority of farmers are aware of new technologies, however where they are failing is in the understanding or conviction and reinforcement mechanisms needed in order for farmers to adopt the new technologies. Improved agricultural practices are often the biggest step to improving farmer yields necessary for food security and poverty reduction. Ensuring farmers are actively partaking in these technologies also means a modernised agriculture sector.


El-Hage Scialabba, Nadia. Can Africa Feed Itself?: Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Romem Italy. June 6-7, 2007.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. How to Feed the World in 2050.

Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II). Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Republic of Ghana. August 2007.

Kwarteng et al., Extension Access and Adoption of Improved Technologies. 2010.

Mwaniki, Angela. Achieving Food Security in Africa: Challenges and Issues. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa United Nations. June 2005.

Technology Adoption Strategy. Engineers Without Borders Canada. August 2011.


3 thoughts on “Smart Interventions for Food Security in Africa

  1. I salute your efforts in writing this post. It is better to be secure than to feel sorry about the issue. The pics you posted here are very touching, and the captions, “getting my hands dirty” and your last pic.. If you manage to drive it then do post it one day. Best of luck.. PS: what could food starvation can do? Read my post here here for the cause food starvation.

    Someone is Special

  2. Pingback: Development Digest – 28/10/11 « What am I doing here?

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