African food security: immediate challenges conceal long-term opportunity

Agriculture Food security Famines Africa

Food security weakened across Africa in 2016 as the number of food insecure people rose from 200 million in 2015 to 224 million. Of the four countries most likely to experience famine in 2017 (Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen), three are located on the continent. While none of the country-wide famines eventuated, parts of South Sudan briefly experienced famine conditions. African food security in 2018 is likely to be undermined by drought, particularly in East Africa, the spread of fall armyworms, on-going conflict in South Sudan and the potential deterioration of socio-political conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Lake Chad region. Despite these trouble spots, there are grounds for long-term optimism in the development of African agriculture.

Key points:

  • Conflict, drought and an outbreak of fall armyworm, an invasive pest from South America, are the main factors that could undermine African food security in 2018.
  • Fall armyworm is unlikely to be eradicated from the continent and will continue to threaten crop yields, but with close management that is appropriate to the African context the threat can be minimised.
  • Continued research and development of underutilised and overlooked crops, increased development and adoption of drought tolerant crop varieties, the expansion of irrigation, modern agricultural technologies and mechanisation will help to improve food security outcomes across the continent.
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