Africa: Russia-Ukraine War – the Connection to Food Security in Africa

Food security in Africa has always been the centre stage of all major global meetings. Photos of starving naked children have been paraded so much that hunger and Africa have become synonymous.

However, after years of talks, recommendations, solutions, funding, monitoring, evaluation, more talks, more recommendations, more funding… and then more years of new talks, new recommendations, new solutions, new funding… it’s exhausting; Africa is still hungry!

The cool acronyms, the endless list of organizations, the countless projects and initiatives, the billions upon trillions issued every year, its all mind-boggling.

Global Development Goals (GDG), Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), World Food Organisation (WFP), International Monetary Fund (IFM), World Bank (WB), African Development Bank (AfDB), Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)… it goes on and on.

The above example of organizations and their acronyms is random, it is not representative of any one guilty organization for the ongoing food insecurity in Africa or the usurping of the billions that are meant to end this food insecurity, no, they are just some of the most popular organizations that fund food security projects for Africa (and elsewhere in the world).

However, one thing we can all agree on is, somebody is guilty for the worst atrocity that can be committed by one man against another man, starving them to death.

It just makes no sense that so much money is spent every year, yet food security is ever so elusive for Africa. Somehow, for similar or lower funding, most of the rest of the world eats just fine and has a surplus to donate to Africa.

Most recently, the African Development Bank (AfDB) announced a US$1.5 billion funding to ‘help African countries avert a looming food crisis in the continent,’ the Bank said.

A noble gesture indeed, and most of the funding for this cause is usually very noble, and we tip our hats at the goodwill. However, the royal illusion that we should bow to is how these huge sums disappear, poof, gone, none the wiser, none accountable, just gone.

The illusion may be the disappearing of the money, but the real trick is that at the end of the funding period, when the money is gone; the problem, food security, the very reason the funding was released in the first place, that never seems to leave, no matter the funding, the acronym or the organization, food insecurity in Africa never goes away.

For example, during the AfDB announcement of the US$1.5 billion funding, the Bank explained that the monies are meant to fund an initiative that “… will provide 20 million African smallholder farmers with certified seeds and will increase access to fertilizers and enable them to produce 38 million tons of food rapidly.”

What caused this new imminent food insecurity? “Disruption of food supplies arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa now faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans mostly imported from both countries,” the Bank explains.

The Bank went ahead and gave this enormous funding a name and an acronym to go with it; it is called the African Emergency Food Production Facility (AEFPF).

“The $1.5 billion African Emergency Food Production Facility is an unprecedented comprehensive initiative to support smallholder farmers in filling the food shortfall,” the bank’s statement read.

Enormous, huge, a mouthful, all these adjectives can be used to describe the large sum of funding, but I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as unprecedented. I say this because I believe larger funding has been issued before, and I stand corrected.

The strategy may be comprehensive, buy seeds, provide farmers with agro-inputs fertilizers etc, and they should harvest the projected amount of food, it sounds watertight, or shall we say, comprehensive.

I have no qualms with the strategy (at least not in this article) but I would like to point out, all this has been done before, all of it; 1. Identify a problem: Impending food shortage due to war, 2. Provide a solution: Seed and agro-inputs for farmers 3. Funding: US$1.5 billion

I am concerned about number 4; that is where the magic trick happens; abracadabra and poof, the money is gone, but alas, the problem is still here! Applause.

Food security: Can Africa produce enough to feed itself?

The answer to whether Africa has the capacity to produce enough food to feed its people lies in both the problem ‘Russia-Ukraine war… looming food crisis’ and the solution ‘Comprehensive strategy … African Development Bank (AfDB) funding US$1.5 billion.’

So, in the face of a looming food crisis Africa actually has the capacity to develop a solution strategy and raise the needed funding to avert the crisis.

So there we have our answer: Can Africa produce enough to feed itself? The answer is unequivocal, yes. This brings us to a more pressing question if Africa can produce enough food, why does it not?

I would like to point out that, AfDB was right when it said that Africa imports most of its grain (including staples) from Russia and Ukraine and the Russia-Ukraine war affected this supply.

Between 2018 and 2020, Africa imported US$3.7 billion in wheat (32% of the continent’s total wheat imports) from Russia and another US$1.4 billion from Ukraine (12% of the continent’s wheat imports) – The Conversation (April 13, 2022 ) by Mandira Bagwandeen & Noncedo Vutula, Senior Research Fellows, The Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance, University of Cape Town.

What is interesting here is the fact that remove the Russia-Ukraine war from the equation, and you find that Africa was self-sufficient after all; that is to say; Africa never needed to import the grains in the first place; it always had the capacity to produce.

Let’s review the problem one more time: “Disruption of food supplies arising from the Russia-Ukraine war, Africa now faces a shortage of at least 30 million metric tons of food, especially wheat, maize, and soybeans, mostly imported from both countries,” the Bank explains.

Here is the solution as explained by AfDB: … provide 20 million African smallholder farmers with certified seeds and will increase access to fertilizers and enable them to rapidly produce 38 million tonnes of food.”

In a nutshell: The looming crisis is a shortage of 30 million metric tonnes of food, and the solution is the African Development Bank’s US$1.5 billion package to produce 38 million tonnes of food rapidly.

Maybe it’s just me, but it looks like Africa could have been doing that from the get-go, why did it take a war to wake up to the fact?

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