Paradoxically, though sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s richest region in terms of available land and water and though it also has an abundant farm labour force, it is also one of the regions the most affected by hunger, with a continually escalating food deficit. As Jean-Luc Francois, head of the “Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity” division of the French Development Agency (AFD), stated in an interview published on the AFD website which we recommend reading1
, this paradox can be largely explained by the decades long weakness or even absence of policies that encourage farmers and investors to consider agriculture as a means of earning a living.
Because in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in other developing regions of the world, food insecurity is closely linked to the poverty of rural and agricultural populations, it is essential to prioritize investment in agriculture. As Jean-Luc François points out, farmers should be the main target of these investments because they represent the "first investors": those who firstly invest with their work, then as soon as they are financially able, by reinvesting their margins or using financial institutions.
In this context, it is important to facilitate access to agricultural credit and strengthen rural infrastructures to enable farmers to increase their productivity and improve their livelihood. However added to these key measures is an essential condition: the stability of agricultural prices. Effectively, long-term productive investments in activities where product prices are permanently fluctuating - rising or falling sharply from one day to the next are inconceivable.
This is why, along with measures to promote the development of rural infrastructures and agricultural credit, it is essential to implement mechanisms for regulating agricultural prices at a national level of course, but also, given the strong interconnection between world economies at a global level.
momagri Editorial Board
What are the stakes in the fight against hunger today?
Today, food security is a concern throughout the world. The effect of world problems on agricultural markets, the decisions taken in Brussels, Washington and Beijing have an impact on the household food basket in Dakar, Niamey and Ouagadougou, because they buy imported products or local products whose prices are influenced by world market prices. At the global level, there is a vast difference between the issues for countries in the North and countries in the South, and among the countries of the South, sub-Saharan Africa is very specific.
Faced with this situation, our priority at AFD is agriculture and food security in the broad sense, but concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is both potential and enormous needs. The paradox of sub-Saharan Africa is that it is the part of the world that has the most available land and water, an abundant labour force, but also an escalating food deficit.
This phenomenon needs to be corrected, first of all because of the trade balance deficit: why import rice in Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria when we can produce it? On the other hand, there is such a population dynamic that jobs must be created and agriculture is a high intensity labour sector.
What are the causes of food crises on the African continent?
There are two types of causes: natural causes and causes related to development strategies. The Sahel suffers from frequent rainfall deficits, which have a considerable impact on livestock and crops. But there are other parts of Africa, where for decades, there has been a lack of policies that encourage farmers and investors to consider agriculture as a means to earning a living.
This year, there was a relatively large crisis in the Horn of Africa, which was originally due to natural causes, but was exacerbated by political unrest. However, in the long-term this area may very well, in a stabilized context, develop irrigation and new farming practices that respect traditional farming.
At the moment, there is a crisis looming in Niger and six other countries in West Africa. In addition, the Sahel suffers from difficulties in terms of security, which will make it more difficult to help the people.
Then there is the problem of population density, because these are countries where the demographic transition is not yet assured. Urbanization creates customers for farmers.
Finally, there are migration aspects, which is why the problem of food security must be considered at the sub-regional level in West Africa.
If we do not react, the food crisis could be aggravated by growing desertification and population growth in Africa.
Is the struggle for food security limited to agriculture?
If we reason in general, the real problem is poverty. In some rich countries, there are poor people who do not eat enough, or eat badly. Undoubtedly the world produces enough food for its people. If we focus on Africa, the poor are in rural areas. We must invest in agriculture. By producing more, we can feed city dwellers without aggravating the trade balance deficit and enable the rural poor to increase their income and therefore no longer suffer from hunger.
In summary, from the point of view of Africa, hunger remains an agricultural problem. We must therefore invest in agriculture.
What does investing in agriculture mean?
At AFD, we believe that the first investors are the farmers. It is they who invest, first by their work and as soon as they are financially able, by reinvesting their margins or using financial institutions, microfinance or agricultural credit... Helping industries buy their produce from agriculture at a good price and equitably share the added value, is to help farmers invest.
This is what AFD does by financing companies that create the link between the farmer and the market through channels that organize contracts between farmers and industries and by reinforcing the capacity of local banks to give credit to agriculture. But the private sector cannot do everything. States must also invest, for example in rural roads, in irrigation, in training and generally in all that improves the functioning of markets and the flow of trade between town and country. This is another area where AFD intervenes. [...]
1 To read the interview of Jean-Luc François in its entirety on the AFD’s website: http://www.afd.fr/developpement_rural?actuCtnId=78272