Addressing Long-Term Challenges to Food Security and Rural Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa

Chris Ackello-Ogutu, Victor Okoruwa, Girish Nath Bahal 
Global Development Network 

Although there have been numerous concerted efforts aimed at halting the deterioration of the global food security situation, available evidence indicates only a modest level of success especially in Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). The region harbors about 180 million of food insecure people and had in the past experienced an increase in the number of the undernourished by 24 million people between 2003 and 2009. In addition, child malnutrition is projected to continue worsening well beyond 2030 and energy intake and other dietary needs in SSA have been characterized either by stagnation or decline compared to the upward global trend between mid 1960 and the late 1990s. This paper aims at informing agricultural policy dialogue by examining the long term challenges to food security and rural livelihood in SSA. Through a critical review of a wide range of literature, the paper provides a synthesis of the nature and pattern of food security challenges, their likely impacts and the opportunities for mitigating the challenges in the region. The economies of many countries in SSA depend heavily on agriculture with the sector playing significant roles in national poverty reduction and food security strategies. Up until early 2000, the sector generally went through policy and budgetary neglect that led to growth stagnation but there is guarded optimism now: agricultural GDP in SSA as a whole grew by more than 3.5 percent in 2008, surpassing the population growth rate, and grain production growth rates have been kept above 3.0 percent. But, despite the positive trends, SSA agriculture remains uncompetitive in the global market and the region as a whole is increasingly becoming a net food importer of major food grains thus increasing its vulnerability to food price volatility in the global markets. Furthermore, SSA still faces challenges in translating agricultural growth (as well as improved political democracy and international goodwill) into real gains in food security and nutritional status of the majority of its people. The region is yet to deal comprehensively with a number of problems: agriculture’s low absorptive capacity partly due to weak institutional capacity; low per capita incomes that restrict elective demand; lack of social equity in resource ownership; diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS; persistent insecurity hot spots; and, high level corruption. These problems are likely to be compounded in future by climate change impacts in the face of numerous pockets of highly vulnerable communities, especially those living in arid and semi-arid zones; lack of resources needed for climate change adaptation; rising rural populations combined with high incidence of poverty and rising dependency ratios; scarcity of arable land (a consequence of both rising populations and degradation); and, urban youth unemployment. The paper offers strategies not just for managing the future challenges to food security in SSA but also recommends ways of taking advantage of the opportunities that are likely to emerge, for example, from rising urban populations and per capita incomes, increased food supply responsiveness by smallholder farmers and agro-processors, international cooperation and support, and increased investment inflows due to deepening of south-south cooperation.

Publication date: 
1 Juin, 2012 
Source / Citation: 

Ackello-Ogutu, C., V. Okoruwa, and G. N. Bahal, "Addressing Long-Term Challenges to Food Security and Rural Livelihoods in Sub-Saharan Africa", GDN Policy Research Paper 2, June 2012.