August 3, 2017 | By Oluwafemi Abiodun Ajayi

Guest Commentary – Food Security, Sustainable Agricultural Production, and Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.

Over the years, efforts have been geared towards improving agricultural systems and food security in Africa. Ravaging hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa are a reality for many, and should not be taken lightly. In fact, a large population in Africa is in a permanent state of food insecurity. Their condition is worsened whenever there is a conflict, which can result in human displacement and further food crises, and places millions more at risk of food insecurity. But thanks to the activities of international development agencies, with support from developed countries, action plans and projects to end the scourge of food insecurity on the continent are underway to realize the potential of a food-secure African continent.

Although significant progress has been made, it is still evident that the problem is far from over. A lot of work remains regarding how African countries will be able to feed themselves now and in the future through sustainable approaches, as well as the underlying drivers of crisis and instability: poverty, illiteracy, inequality, climate change, lack of access to funds, drought, famine, and political unrest, among others. In the last 30 years, Africa has had more than its share of pronounced food crises. Notable among these are: the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia; the 2005 Malawian food crisis; the 2005-2006 food crisis in Niger Republic; the 2006 food crisis in the Horn of Africa; the 2010 Sahel drought; and most recently, the current food crisis in North-eastern part of Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan.

What’s to be done about this? What, for example, is the role of the target communities in need of food security interventions? What contributions do they need to make to gain food security? Are target communities’ efforts to address their food insecurity passive or active? These questions must be part of any plan to address food insecurity, and project blueprints should include provisions to maximize community engagement.

On a personal note, when I spent some time in the Northern part of Zambia conducting my thesis research, I was deeply saddened to see the conditions of people’s access to adequate food. Out of the 80 rural households I interviewed, not a single household could afford three square meals; most of them could only afford two meals a day. Consequently, their Household Dietary Diversity Score (HDDS) was very low, and their Household Food Insecurity Scale (HFIAS) scores were quite high, confirming an overall high-level of food insecurity. This set-up is similar in most rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa. The reason given for lack of access to adequate food in the interviewed households was “lack of money”—which is to say, poverty.

The focus of development efforts should not just be on feeding the African continent, but on how to lay the foundation for a sustainable means of food production that provide people with sustainable livelihoods as well. And, as the majority of rural households engage in subsistence agriculture, it is critical that any intervention to promote food security also engages the available human, social, and natural capital available to create improved agricultural systems.

It’s worth noting that the perception of agriculture is changing fast. The old conception of agriculture as a poor man’s job is fading, and agriculture is increasingly seen as a career option with a future among the youths of Africa. Across cities and rural centres alike, especially in Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria, a new generation of young farmers is emerging with an agripreneur mind-set. These are groups that do not see agriculture as a last resort, but instead see the gaps in the food system as opportunities. These agripreneurs are the emerging drivers of the profession that feeds us all.

There is great hope that we can create the global food system we desire. Sustainable approaches to farming systems, implementation of precision farming, and the inclusion of the internet of things through smart agriculture are all bringing great advancements to the African continent. And crucially, the mind-set people have about agriculture is changing for the better, promising that agriculture will attract and retain the talent needed to build a sustainable, productive agricultural system.

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:

The Two Words Required to Sell Careers in Agriculture to Young People

Technology for Youth Engagement in the New Age of Agriculture

How Public and Private Partnerships Can Achieve a More Food-Secure World

Why a Practical Consensus on Animal Welfare Is Essential to Combating Climate Change 

Working Together in Times of Food Insecurity

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: The Dilemma for Chicken Farmers in Tanzania

Unifying the Next Generation through Open Data 

Food Security: Agriculture, Society, and Ecology 

Canada's Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North

Nutrition Security in the 21st Century


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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