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Regional themes > Food security Last update: 2020-11-27  

United Nations

Report on the status of food security and sustainable development in Southern Africa

Ninth meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE)

Maseru, Lesotho

24 - 26 February 2003

Posted with permission of the ECA, Lusaka office
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The report reviews food security and sustainable development in Southern Africa in a continued effort to stimulate the debate towards finding permanent solutions to food insecurity in subregion. The food insecurity has continued to decline, not only in the subregion but Africa as whole.

It discusses several factors that influence food production and sustainable development. These include: poverty; climatic/weather conditions; civil conflicts/wars; limited application of science and technologies; HIV/AIDS; lack of adequate investment in rural development; limited role of women; poor land tenure systems; poor land management husbandry; little use of inputs and markets; inadequate extension services to farmers; and trade and globalization.

There is need to critically address and respond to the above factors. In this context, it is important for African countries to operationize the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which has been formulated to promote interventions to respond to the crisis situation of African agriculture and food insecurity.

The Intergovernmental Committee of Experts is called upon to consider and endorse the recommendations in the report and urge member States and developing partners to implement them.


  1. The objective of this report is to review food security and sustainable development in Southern Africa and continue to stimulate the debate towards finding permanent solutions to food insecurity in the subregion. The current food crisis affecting 6 countries in the subregion warrants stronger debate, collective commitment, policies, strategies and programmes to respond to food insecurity and overall socio-economic development.

  2. Food security implies the ability to acquire enough food to satisfy adequate nutritional requirements at both national and household levels. FAO defines food security as a situation that exist when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for active and healthy life. This can be achieved through agricultural production and trade depending on a country’s comparative advantage

  3. Sustainable development, according to the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, has been defined as “development, which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Thus, food security has to be viewed from many aspects related to agriculture, population, environment, macro-economic policies, etc, in the context of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) in Agenda 21. The major objective of SARD is to increase food production in a sustainable way and enhance food security.

  4. The 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, Agenda 21 on Environment and Development as well as both the 1996 and 2002 World Food Summits came up with far reaching recommendations, commitments and action plans to address food and sustainable development. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) adopted a Plan of Implementation. Section VIII of that Plan on Sustainable Development for Africa stressed the need to achieve significantly improved agricultural productivity and food security towards halving, by 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. It called for support in the development and implementation of national policies and programmes including research, fisheries, investment in infrastructure, technology and extension services. Furthermore, the WSSD underlined the need to link food security strategies to national poverty eradication programmes.

  5. At the continent level, several conferences at the level of OAU, FAO, ECA and UNEP have addressed issues of food security and sustainable development and passed recommendations for implementation. A report prepared for the ECA Conference of Ministers in 1995 made the following recommendations for sustained progress in agriculture and food security.1

    • agricultural development must be environmentally sustainable;

    • agricultural development should be compatible with population growth rate;

    • feasible technology should be used to increase yields to raise output;

    • there should be economic incentives through growth and equity;

    • farmers should be provided with the delivery system – infrastructure and institutions; and

    • regional economic cooperation and integration should be promoted as a means of improving food availability.

    In the same year, 1995, the OAU Summit held in Cairo, Egypt, adopted an Agenda for Action which included food security as one of the priority areas.

  6. Most recently, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has also accorded priority to agriculture and food security. A NEPAD Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) has been formulated with assistance from FAO and inputs from sub-regional organizations including COMESA and SADC. CAADP proposes interventions to respond to the crisis situation of African Agriculture. It focuses on:

    • extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems;

    • improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for improved market access;

    • increasing food supply and reducing hunger; and

    • addressing long-term agricultural research, technological dissemination and adoption.

  7. At the subregional level, both COMESA and SADC have been addressing issues on food security and sustainable development. Article 129 of the COMESA Treaty states, “The overall objectives of cooperation in the agricultural sector are the achievement of regional food security and rational agricultural production within the Common Market. To this end, member States undertake to adopt a scheme for the rationalization of agricultural complementarity and specialization in and sustainability of national agricultural programmes in order to ensure:

    • common agricultural policy;

    • regional food sufficiency;

    • an increase in the food productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry for domestic consumption, exports within and outside the Common Market and as inputs to agro-based industry; and

    • replacement of imports on regional basis.2

  8. SADC adopted a Regional Policy and Strategy for Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1992. The Policy was subsequently revised in 1997 and replaced by a new policy called “A Food Security Strategy Framework” focusing on improving access to food, food availability and nutrition. Improving access to food underlined the need to (a) adopt policies which generate maximum employment gains from each increment of economic growth compatible with local comparative advantage; (b) introduce measures which improve income stability compatible with efficiency and equity; and (c) develop income safety nets for vulnerable groups. Improving food availability was to be achieved through promotion of trade, increase in smallholder competitiveness and more efficient use of renewable natural resources.

  9. The ECA, in its activities, has been involved in sensitizing member States on food security and sustainable development issues through meetings and research documents. In recent years, food security and sustainable development has continued to be on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts (ICE). In addition, a Workshop for ECA member States in Southern Africa was organized on “Food Security – A Recipe for Development” which took place in South Africa in 1997. In 1998, the ICE for Southern Africa adopted a Policy Framework on Nexus issues of Population, Food Security and Environment in Southern Africa.

  10. The food situation in Africa, notwithstanding the above, has not improved; rather it has continued to decline. Africa is the only region where average food production per capita has declined over the past 40 years. Average cereal yields in Africa are half those in the other developing regions of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Malnutrition in Africa has remained very high. Food systems have become more vulnerable than before. Food imports and food aid continued to be major issues in terms of food security. Urban employment opportunities have not kept pace with growth of the urban population and hence aggravates malnutrition among the urban poor.

  11. The situation in Southern Africa is similar to that described above for Africa as a whole. Southern Africa suffered the worst food and humanitarian crisis in 1992 due to drought that adversely affected 18 million people. Currently, also due to mainly the drought but also policies and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Southern Africa is facing yet another serious food and humanitarian crisis affecting over 14 million people.

  12. The report is organized as follows: General trends in food production and nutritional status are presented in Section II. Section III discusses main factors affecting food security and sustainable development, while Section IV gives some examples of efforts being made in addressing food security. Section V presents the conclusion while Section VI presents recommendations.


  1. UNECA, “ Food and Agriculture Production, Food Security and Food Self Sufficiency in Africa”, doc. E/ECA/CM.21/10, 30 March 1995.
  2. COMESA, “Report of the Fourteenth Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee, 20 – 22 November 2002, Lusaka, Zambia

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