From Potential to Reality: Innovative solutions to the global hunger crisis

Joachim von Braun, Professor for Economic and Technological Change at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) of the University of Bonn, outlines how Africa can overcome the global hunger crisis.

Food systems around the world are facing a multi-dimensional crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically disrupted the food supply chain due to bottlenecks in farm labour, processing and transportation. Additionally, the war in Ukraine adds uncertainty to grain supply as Russia and Ukraine account for 20 per cent and 30 per cent of global maize and wheat exports, respectively. Hunger is on the rise in Africa, with issues such as acute climate stress and inflation impacting people’s ability to buy goods.

Urgent and coordinated international action is needed to achieve food security while safeguarding the environment. Policymakers must work to build sustainable and resilient food systems, while also managing the ongoing food crisis. In addition, the development sector needs to invest in scaleable, global innovative solutions driven by scientific expertise to achieve progress and reduce hunger.

From the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit to the G20 and COP27 – with its first-ever Food Systems Pavilion – food systems have remained high on the international agenda and global leaders must continue this momentum. To do so, a number of short- and long-term courses of action for policy and partnerships must be addressed, with innovation at the centre.


Long term strategic priorities for governments 

In the long term, regional and international cooperation can help turn Africa’s agricultural and food systems’ potential into a reality. For example, to secure a regular food supply for affordable and healthy diets while also ensuring sustainable use of resources, policymakers must prioritise investment and policy actions that benefit African society as a whole. 

By investing in and supporting small businesses and making productive use of the African Continental Free Trade Area, entrepreneurship in the region can be fostered. Small-scale businesses need to be supported with improved agricultural finance infrastructures so that they can access investment and microfinance opportunities.

Additionally, investing in skills development programmes should also remain a priority for policymakers in Africa, as supporting young women and men with vocational training and extension services can improve skills for all professions along the value chain. While developing skills is an important aspect of improving economic outcomes and building resilience, much of rural Africa remains disconnected from these opportunities. However, this can be resolved through better rural infrastructure and digital connectivity. 

Moreover, investing in innovations, agricultural research, solar energy supported small-scale irrigation, rural energy, digitalisation and mechanisation of production can help communities recover from global shocks.

Short term actions to improve food security

In the short term, policymakers must focus on a number of main sectors for growth, such as trade, social protection, employment and health. Trade, in particular, is essential to growing economic opportunities in Africa. In particular, supporting international efforts to unblock the grain supply – and compensating those that are indirectly impacted by the blockages – is important to reviving the food supply. Expanding trade finance and advancing intra-African trade by conducting transactions in local currencies can also help manage the food crisis. In addition, improved technology and scientific innovations like data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) policymakers and civil society organisations can also prevent food crises from turning into famines.

Strong social protection systems must also be developed to help vulnerable people cope with the global hunger crisis and external shocks. Better employment opportunities, investments in the health and education of children, and cash transfer programmes are all ways families can be empowered to lift themselves out of poverty. Nutrition programmes that are expanded to school meals, health systems and food fortification can address the growing diet deficiencies among rural and urban populations in Africa.

Looking ahead: Learning from Africa’s successes in food and agriculture

Above all, global cooperation is important in solving some of these challenges, but Africa has made great strides in advancing towards the goals set under both the Malabo Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, the progress is fragile and ensuring food security and improved nutrition is still a challenge. There is more to be done to ensure that Africa is on track to achieve Zero Hunger (SDG 2) by 2030.

The Malabo Montpellier Report “Recipes for success” (2021) can serve as a guideline for African policymakers, development partners and the private sector to achieve sustained progress toward resilient food systems. According to the report, food systems transformation in Africa can be achieved by adopting an approach that can close the gaps that are impeding progress toward sustainable growth. Beginning with countries’ development agendas, food systems transformation through innovative solutions must be an integral part of their national vision. 

Placing African innovation at the centre of food systems transformation is key to achieving resilience across the continent and around the world. By implementing smart regulations, nurturing scientific growth and supporting youth with the resources they need, African and international policymakers can optimise conditions to catalyse action across food systems.

 

Photo: UN COP27 Climate Talks, November 2022 (UNFCCC)