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Supporting policy with scientific evidence

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Publication | 2022

Why food insecurity persists in sub-Saharan Africa: A review of existing evidence

This article is the third in a series of historical reviews on sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), exploring why agricultural production and irrigation schemes are underperforming, and how this contributes to high levels of food insecurity. The expression ‘food security’ emerged in 1974 following the Sahel and Darfur famines. Despite SSA being a net agricultural exporter, food insecurity has persisted and is increasing. This is largely a legacy of the export-oriented colonial agricultural production systems, which procured scarce fertile land, water and labour to meet the needs of industries and consumers in the Global North. Colonialism also undermined the social contract between traditional leaders and communities, which had been instrumental in managing food scarcity in earlier times. Post-independence, agricultural policies remained focused on exports and neglected critical research and investment: integrating food productions systems into the domestic economy; developing supply chains and associated market, storage and value-adding infrastructure; and introducing appropriate technologies. As a result, Africa is the only region in the world where increased export production caused a decline in per capita food production. African nations should be extracted from the debt accrued due to poor colonial investments, World Bank lending practices, and global currency and interest fluctuations, which have crippled their capacity to support agriculture and improve livelihoods and food security. Farming needs to be profitable, which includes farmers being connected to domestic supply chains and market signals, local value-adding, and post-harvest storage. This will create jobs and increase income earning capacity, which is the key to households’ food security.