By Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
In a region beset with conflict, the uptick of numbers paint a grim foreboding. Hunger is on the rise again in Africa, reversing the gains and derailing the efforts made in the last few years.
Recent years indeed brought recurrent conflicts in the region. In 2018 alone, there were over 90 conflicts in Africa, a quarter of such occurrences globally. Conflicts in ten African countries left millions of people in need of urgent food assistance and hundreds of thousands had to quickly flee their homes and involuntarily abandon their livelihoods.
Most of these livelihoods are dependent on agriculture and the emergence of conflict has life-changing and serious implications. For people who rely on agriculture, conflicts destroy food systems, decimate crops and livestock resources, and cause loss of assets and incomes. These trigger food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger.
People living in countries affected by conflict are more likely to be food insecure and malnourished. In Africa, the prevalence of undernourishment is about two and a half times higher in countries affected by a protracted crisis than in other development contexts. Nutrition outcomes are also worse in conflict situations, where almost 122 million, or 75 percent of stunted children, are under the age of five.
Additionally, conflicts harm national economies. Agriculture in Africa contributes a sizeable proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs more than half of the total labour force, and provides livelihood incomes for smallholder farmers, who constitute approximately 80 percent of the total population. When conflicts occur, agricultural activities are disrupted, resulting in massive youth unemployment, displacement, strife and discord.
Conflicts trigger a domino effect. They lead to food insecurity and malnutrition, which are also conflict multipliers, especially in fragile states. The relentless cycle goes unchecked if collective action is not in place.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for a transformative approach pointing to an improved collaboration on conflict prevention and resolution. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 likewise prioritizes peace and security to reposition Africa on a sustainable route of transformation and development.
The commitment of the African leadership to change course has been confirmed in the 2014 Malabo Declaration on “Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods” in the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) agenda. The goal to ending hunger in Africa by 2025 stands out among the prominent commitments of the Malabo Declaration, stressing the notion that peace and stability are the prime preconditions to achieve this goal.
It is in this context that the African Union has selected the theme of the year 2020 to be “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”. As a flagship project of the Agenda 2063, this initiative would have a greater impact in promoting peace and stability in Africa, with the goal of ending all wars and civil conflicts, thereby achieving concrete development goals, including the eradication of hunger.
FAO and its partners have a key role to play in supporting the Silencing the Guns Initiative. FAO is poised to tap into the potential of agriculture to lift large numbers of the rural poor out of poverty, contributing to peace and security. Under FAO’s flagship Hand-in-Hand initiative, FAO aims to actively collaborate with member countries and development partners to take a bold step towards achieving the SDGs related to eradicating poverty, hunger and malnutrition, through accelerating agricultural transformation and sustainable development. The initiative offers opportunities to use the most advanced tools available, including advanced geospatial modelling and analytics, to improve targeting and tailoring policy interventions, innovation, finance and investment and institutional reform in a comprehensive approach.
On the margins of the AU Summit this year, FAO, in collaboration with the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the African Union Commission, is organizing a high-level side event, “Hand-in-Hand in Partnerships towards Maintaining Peace through Improved Food Security and Nutrition in Africa.” The event will delve into the critical role of enhancing inclusive investments and innovative solutions to support resilient food and agricultural systems that would make sustainable peace possible, which in turn would be key to reverse the worsening trends of food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. At the side event, FAO, ECA, and AU will also launch the regional flagship publication ‘Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition,’ which reports on the food security situation in the continent as driven by conflicts and other factors such as climate shocks and economic slowdowns and downturns.
FAO extends its gratitude to the government of the host country, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, whose Prime Minister is the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and to the African Union Commission, for collaborating with FAO to organize the event.