Food insecurity is a major challenge in African countries, where the rate at which the population grows far exceeds both the quantity and quality of food required to sustain the population. It is reported that 204 million of the 814 million undernourished people in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Food security exists when all people in a society have adequate food for an active, healthy life at all times. As a broad term, ‘food security’ is defined by the availability of safe and nutritious food, and a guaranteed capability to procure and acquire food of good quality in a socially-acceptable way.
Food insecurity, on the other hand, occurs when basic healthy food is not easily accessible, and poor households struggle to secure enough food for their nutritional needs.
It is undeniable that the root causes of hunger are poverty and poor food distribution. The majority of poor households in sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to access highly nutritional and healthy food. Therefore, getting rural households to actively participate in small-scale agricultural activities for subsistence farming can play a vital role in minimising the vulnerability to hunger in rural food-insecure households.
Smallholder farmers are faced with a variety of challenges, which include drought, pests and crop diseases, scarce arable land with water, lack of market availability, old age, low level of education, limited availability of quality infrastructure, lack of good cellphone network connections and limited access to quality inputs.
A poorly-functioning rural economy with undeveloped infrastructure, weak market linkages and poor agricultural support services isolates rural households from the mainstream economy and from important agricultural value-chains, typical of many countries on the continent. This needs to change.
The economies and food security of many African countries are dependent on sectors that are influenced by changing climate conditions, including agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism. Also, African countries are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because the bulk of the population relies on rain-fed agriculture for food and their livelihoods.
Increased urbanisation, poor productivity and competition from commercial agriculture, which is producing food more effectively and at lower prices, has made it difficult for smallholder farmers to thrive.
It is, therefore, imperative that small-scale farmers adopt new technologies to increase production and, consequently, ensure food security. Improved productivity of these small farmers is the key to providing practical, sustainable solutions able to address the growing problem of food security on a global scale.
Historically, a vibrant agricultural sector has, in most cases, been the foundation for positive economic growth or transformation in many developed countries. Agricultural growth was the precursor to several industrial revolutions in Europe and the United States and, more recently, to the industrial revolutions in China, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and other rapidly growing economies in Asia.
At the heart of these transformations, investment in agriculture resulted in surpluses of agricultural produce. This helped to keep food prices low, and played a hand in stimulating overall economic growth.
This agriculture-based economic development helped to create new employment opportunities that were pivotal in absorbing the rural labour surplus. The potential of agriculture to improve a country’s overall economy can never be overemphasised.