Next week in Khartoum, Sudan, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is convening the 30th Regional Conference for Africa, where African ministers and other stakeholders will meet to review the achievements, challenges and priorities regarding the sustainable development of agriculture and food systems. It is encouraging that some parts of the continent have made significant progress, but challenges remain for all.
The 2017 edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report points out that the number of undernourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 was about 224 million, an increase of 24 million compared to the previous year. This means that 23 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, almost one out of four African people, was undernourished. However, compared with the percentage of undernourishment registered in 2000 — 28 percent — the numbers still show a relative decrease.
The increase in hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 is directly linked to conflicts and the impacts of climate change, such as the prolonged drought that affected the rural areas of many countries. Low levels of productivity, weak value chains and high levels of vulnerability to crises have also contributed to negatively affecting food and agriculture systems and rural livelihoods, especially in relation to the poorest people.
It is also important to bear in mind that SDG 2 calls for the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. And this is for a reason. Today, we are facing a global epidemic of obesity.
The situation is also worrisome here in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, more than 30 percent of adults in Africa are overweight. Obesity rates are nearing 10 percent in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. Furthermore, about 41 million children in the world under five years old are overweight. A quarter of these children live in Africa.
Rapid urbanization and the consumption of highly processed foods are the major drivers behind this increase. People are often unaware that certain foods are unhealthy, and they do not see being overweight as a problem.
The challenge is how to promote healthy diets when urbanization is stimulating a dietary transition toward more processed foods. So countries need to act on two fronts: The production and consumption of healthy food. This includes the advertisements and information on food products. People must be aware of the pros and cons of what they are eating, and also be encouraged to eat healthy food.
UN makes urgent call for renewed optimism on fight against undernourishment, which increased last year due to the effects of conflicts and climate change on the continent.
Graziano da Silva
Meanwhile, youth employment remains a biting challenge in the region. Estimates foresee that the number of people aged 15 to 24 years in Sub-Saharan Africa will increase by more than 90 million by 2030, and most will be in rural areas. Getting this growing number of young people into decent jobs is not just essential for their personal future, but for the future of the continent.
The majority of Africa’s rural youth are in the informal economy as contributing family workers, subsistence farmers, home-based micro-entrepreneurs or unskilled workers. They typically earn low wages, work under casual or seasonal arrangements, and face unsafe, often exploitative working conditions that compel many to migrate to urban areas.
Farm and non-farm activities hold enormous potential for unemployed African youths, but more effort is needed to transform rural economies. Successful, inclusive transformations encourage agricultural productivity growth, a shift of people and resources from agriculture toward manufacturing, industry and services, and massive increases in per capita income, as well as steep reductions in poverty and hunger.
We have good reasons to be optimistic that eradicating hunger by 2030 is still possible. Political will has not evaporated; it has in fact been reinforced. The United Nations, led by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, has increased its focus on the impact of conflicts through peacekeeping operations.
In relation to climate change, there is currently in place the Green Climate Fund, which ensures developing countries will have access to the necessary resources to implement climate-smart practices that will help them adapt to a changing climate.
Furthermore, there are strong signs that the world economy is recovering and this will create favorable conditions for development.
On the margins of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa a few weeks ago, I addressed heads of state and government, and reaffirmed that achieving zero hunger is possible. Stronger commitment by governments, the private sector, civil society, the African Union and the United Nations is needed to promote peace, human rights and sustainable development.
Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.