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

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USAID Regional Center for Southern Africa: Food Security Strategic Option

Executive Summary
The purpose of this report is to provide:

  1. an analytical synthesis, based on a broad-ranging review of the relevant literature, of the state of, and trends in, household food insecurity in Southern Africa;
  2. a brief review of what has been-and is being-done to confront such food insecurity; and
  3. suggestions to RCSA regarding its own possible role in dealing with the causes of food insecurity in the region during 2004-2010.
All who are concerned with the causality of food insecurity in Southern Africa concur that lack of access to minimally adequate amounts of food is extremely serious in the region-a situation that has been worsening for at least the past three decades. Development strategies intended to increase the pace of economic growth in the countries of Southern Africa have "disappointed and failed" in the main sectors: mining, industry, and agriculture. As a result, growth in production, productivity, employment creation, and household income have all lagged the rate of population growth. In particular, the agriculture sector, upon which so many depend for their livelihood, has failed to generate sufficient broad-based growth to enable the food insecure poor to gain minimally adequate entitlements to needed quantities of food on a regular basis.

This report is divided into three sections corresponding to the categories of enquiry suggested in the proposed food security research questions listed in Appendix 3.

Section 1 contains a synopsis of what is written about food and livelihood insecurity in Southern Africa. It notes, inter alia, that more than one-fourth of the total populations of the six countries most affected by the 2001-02 food emergency remain, as of early 2003, in a state of acute food insecurity; that chronic undernutrition in under-fives presently ranges between one-fourth and one-half of all children in that age group; and that more than half of the total population of the region-i.e., more than 50 million people-can be numbered among the chronically food insecure poor. In addition something akin to one-fourth of the adult population in these countries is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

The causes of these conditions are numerous and mutually reinforcing. They include: i) three decades of negative per capita economic growth; ii) failed growth strategies in all major sectors of the economy, iii) increasing frequency of droughts and other episodic shocks in the region; iv) apparent climate change contributing to increasing variability in annual and seasonal rainfall levels and increasing average daily temperatures; v) environmental deterioration particularly evident as deteriorating soil health, degraded watershed effectiveness and declining pastureland resilience; vi) decreasing per capita availability of water necessary for human, animal, and crop use; vii) reduced viability and coverage of traditional social insurance and other safety net mechanisms; viii) continued under-investment in women as agents of economic growth; ix) deteriorating transport infrastructure and increasing geographic isolation of larger numbers of the rural poor; and x) the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS among the population-poor and non-poor alike.

The primary method among the poor of coping with, and adapting to, these adverse trends and conditions has been a rapid increase in livelihood diversification. One study (Bryceson, 2000) has determined that by the late 1990s some 55-80 percent of rural household income was being derived from non-farm sources in survey areas-a significant increase from the comparable figure of 40 percent found by researchers just 2-3 years earlier. These substantial changes are a response to diminishing returns to land and labor in the face of market failures and impediments preventing movement into agricultural niches with higher economic returns. Such profound changes in traditional livelihood modalities carry important implications for donor and government agriculture growth strategies which have, in the past, sought to improve food security primarily through activities intended to raised on-farm productivity and crop-based incomes. Efforts to speed asset creation and sustainability through the relatively frictionless and well-integrated operations of markets and institutions have not created sustainable conditions for increased production, productivity, remuneration, and household food security.

Section 2 looks at what has been done, is being done, and should be done in the future to improve overall household food security in the region. It notes the changing nature of the domains of food security and livelihood security since the mid-1970s. It suggests a growing consensus around the notion that food security requires-at a minimum-a food system operating to create a sense of assurance among the population that access to adequate food for all individuals and households is a continuing likelihood. Food security policy is intended to maintain the conditions underpinning that assurance over time.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the region's governments and donors focused-with varying degrees of success-on macroeconomic reforms, market liberalization in agriculture and other sectors, and reduction in government involvement in commercial endeavors as central elements of development policy. Investment in agriculture development programs decreased, however, particularly in agricultural services and agricultural research. The availability of agricultural inputs, marketing opportunities, and agricultural credit for smallholders-especially for those far from roads, or who were farming in the less favored geographic areas-also declined during the period.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, investments in education, health and other social sector programs also fell-a function of declining government revenues throughout the region. At the same time, however, particularly after the publication of the World Bank's 1990 World Development Report (WDR) on poverty, an increasing focus on poverty reduction began to emerge as a central element of development programming in the region. New country development strategies were more likely to focus on the extent and causality of poverty and the impact on poverty of development growth strategies. While economic-and, in particular, agricultural-growth was still viewed as essential, such growth had to be achieved in ways that lifted large numbers of the poor out of poverty, and over a shortened time frame. During the later 1990s, this concern was institutionalized in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) process in several countries in the region. At the same time, such concerns also gave rise to interest in "livelihood security" strategies (initially among the NGO community, but later throughout the donor community and governments generally) intended to involve the poor in all aspects of program activities meant to raise the economic and social status of the poorer income deciles of the populations throughout the region.

At present, there is growing consensus regarding the notion that development programs in Sub-Saharan Africa should be increasingly focused on the agriculture sector as the premier "engine of economic growth." Research by Mellor and others on Southern and Eastern Asian economic growth modalities seems to authenticate the centrality of agricultural growth as the major contributor to overall economic development in countries like India, Indonesia and Egypt. Within overall agricultural growth, the key role is played by "middle sector" farming households in generating growth "multipliers." Increases in productivity, incomes and expenditures on non-tradables by this particular group seem to be associated with the largest economic multipliers and the most rapid spread of growth from rural agricultural producers to, first, rural non-agricultural goods and services providers and, subsequently, to urban population groups-all linked to increases of production in both non-tradables and tradables.

While this agriculture growth-led strategy seems almost certainly to be the appropriate priority for future growth-oriented development programs in Southern Africa, there is, nonetheless, concern that the rate-and particularly the spread-of growth might not operate within the same 8-10 year time frame in Sub-Saharan Africa to lift the incomes of the poorer farm households which form the vast majority of the rural poor in the region. The positive impact on the livelihood status and food security might well be less, or take substantially longer, than was the case in Asia and North Africa. There are a number of corollary concerns. First, is the concern that the size of the factor and product market "multipliers" will be less, and the velocity slower, than in the studied country experiences. The much higher percentage of households with minimal high quality land and other productive assets might, through greater "friction" or inertia, serve to greatly slow or block the spread effects of agricultural growth. There may, thus, need to be a corollary element in Sub-Saharan Africa involving additional, more focused, livelihood approaches. Second, there continues to be too little attention devoted to women's roles in agriculture and their continued under-representation in agriculture growth strategies. Third, the role of intra-regional and international trade must be more effectively addressed than in the past. Fourth, the issue of appropriately focusing agricultural research-either on the better-off areas or on food insecure poor smallholders-needs to be resolved. Fifth, the real world problems of governance-in "fragile" and, in some cases (the DRC), "failed" polities-adds complexity and difficulty to the already daunting task of effectuating pro-poor, food security-focused, agriculture-led development programs in many countries in the region.

In the "looking ahead" sub-section, the case is made that donors and governments should "buy into" an agriculture growth-led development strategy for all the countries of the region. It seems the approach most likely to generate broad and inclusive economic growth and increased production and incomes generally throughout the populations-including the food insecure poor-in Southern Africa over the longer term. The need for a second-livelihoods-element is compelling, however, in order to more quickly enable the poorer smallholders and service providers to participate at an early stage. This would add targeted efforts to assist communities in the less well-endowed areas to create and maintain sustainable assets (e.g., rural road rehabilitation and maintenance, small water projects, erosion control structures, community-owned grain storage facilities, and similar physical assets). Such efforts would likely be managed or assisted by local and international NGO development agencies and financed through food aid, social action funds, and bilateral donor projects. Early involvement of small-scale farmers in export crops-using the Malawi NASFAM model-is also proposed.

In its look into the future, the report focuses on the need to design and implement the proposed agriculture-led, livelihoods-focused growth strategy with full cognizance of the importance of confronting growing vulnerability of households to the adverse impacts of drought and other shocks and the growing risk that these adverse events will occur at any given time. The food insecure poor are made more vulnerable by the depth and pervasive nature of the poverty in which they are increasingly enmeshed. It is one thing not to be productive enough to grow food sufficient for household consumption; achieving food security is made even more difficult by not having the cash income, assets, or social insurance networks to purchase or otherwise secure enough food to prevent hunger and malnourishment.

Section 3 focuses specifically on what role RCSA could and should play in the agriculture growth-led, livelihoods focused, development strategy suggested. Recognizing that the bulk of the effort will need to be undertaken and accomplished at local, community, and national levels, there are, nonetheless, a number of areas where RCSA, with its regional mandate, can play an important-and sometimes critical-role.

First, RCSA should "buy into" the agriculture-led, livelihoods-focused strategy discussed in the body of this report as the guiding modality for a food security-oriented development strategy in the region. Second, direct support should be provided for implementation of those aspects of USAID's AICHA strategy best dealt with in a regional context in Southern Africa. These might include efforts yielding expanded regional and international trade, facilitating riparian rights agreements for the use of increasingly scarce river and lake water resources, and investing in cross-national evaluations of long-term effectiveness and impact of USAID and NGO program and project approaches in generating improved employment, household income, food security and livelihood security. Third, RCSA should increase its focus on those aspects of USAID program design in the region that deal specifically with reducing vulnerability to-and the risk of experiencing-shocks, disasters, and calamities that affect multiple countries simultaneously, or sequentially, in the region. Whatever RCSA undertakes-within its regional responsibilities-should be designed to enable and facilitate the effectiveness of national and sub-national programs in achieving improved and enduring household food security in this highly food insecure region.

In the specific domains which have already been tentatively identified by RCSA for inclusion in a regional food security-focused strategic objective, the following suggestions are made:

Science and Technology

There are numerous elements in agriculture-related research and in the application of that research within more than one country which lend themselves to a single regional approach-rather than a number of overlapping and duplicative national approaches. Applied research in food and cash crops which can be grown in two or more countries is only the most obvious. However, there is good reason, as discussed in the body of the report, to emphasize support for regionally-based research on high value crops or livestock produced in agronomically-favored regions rather than on those produced in the less favored geographical regions by smallholders. The return on alternative investments in, say, improved road and rail links, is likely to be significantly greater in the more remote regions than investments in research in the crops grown there.

Agribusiness, Markets and Trade

Expanding agriculturally-based trade will be essential for the agricultural growth and related growth in incomes of the food insecure poor of the region. RCSA should devote a substantial share of its agriculture-focused program to improving the region's ability to market crops and livestock intra-regionally and internationally. Particular attention should be devoted to generating substantial improvement in sanitary and phytosanitary processing of Southern Africa's agricultural products as a means for expanding into European, Asian, and North American markets. In addition, RCSA should assist the region to finalize and ratify a regional trade protocol for both intra-regional and international trade.

Disaster Management and Mitigation

The aftermath of the 2001-02 drought emergency has illuminated a number of weaknesses in data-gathering, adequacy, validity of analysis, and in the veracity and timeliness of reporting which need to be addressed and improved within a regional context. RCSA is in a good position, in theory, to undertake, or support, the task of repair and rehabilitation of regional disaster management and mitigation to enable it to function more effectively and more quickly. In addition, RCSA should consider playing a leading role in helping determine the efficacy of a regional strategic grain reserve system and of the utility of establishing a regional entity to utilize grain futures markets to hedge the risk by member governments or private trading entities of under-availability of staple foods during drought or other emergency periods. In addition, this report suggests that RCSA undertake a comprehensive examination of past and possible future effectiveness of food aid as a development instrument in the region and the roles that NGOs and WFP have played and could play in promoting the recommended agriculture-led, livelihoods focused strategy in the region.

The report concludes with a caution: it is easy to claim that a donor's development strategies and activities are aimed at food security objectives. This is so because there are so many mutually reinforcing factors contributing to a resultant condition called food insecurity. Some of these are, of course, more important than others in creating and perpetuating widespread-and growing-household food insecurity in Southern Africa. RCSA should assure itself that whatever is undertaken within its food security SO addresses the most significant, rather than the less significant, of the factors perpetuating high levels of food insecurity in the Southern Africa region.

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