Africa Day: Continent must grow what it eats
Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor
As we celebrate the 58th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, it is still very worrying that more than 100 million people in Africa are still facing acute levels of food insecurity.
Latest statistics from the UN Relief agency indicate that more people are becoming more vulnerable due to civil unrest, displacements, population movement and other complex socio-political and economic factors.
It reports that more than 100 million people are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity and about 4.3 million people are being assisted by Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies with food and in-kind assistance.
About 112 000 people reached with cash and voucher assistance. The raging novel coronavirus pandemic has compounded the problems.
The poor are the hardest hit. Droughts, floods, climate change and other socio –economic factors have had a profound impact on the food security situation on the continent.
Africa still spends billions dollars on food imports particularly grains and other processed foods. This is not healthy for the continent.
In 2020 alone. Africa spent about US$80 billion on food imports and that figure is rising at a rate of about six percent per annum, according to African Union Commission for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment.
All this is taking place despite the fact that the continent has vast tracts of arable land. We need to remain conscious that food security is also a matter of national and continental security.
The way we think about military security should also be the way we should think about food security. Matters of the stomach are a security issue. This must not be taken lightly.
We need to grow what we eat. Heavy reliance on imports comes with a huge risk and price. Covid-19 restrictions have affected the global production of food and in the past 6 months, the price of staple grains has been going due to the shocks on the market.
Most African countries are having to fork more money to import food.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that food prices have increased dramatically across the continent.
Local staples are up by nearly 40 percent over the 5 years average, and in some areas, prices are up by more than 200 percent, the FAO said in an update released last month.
“This is caused in part by the economic impact of measures put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus over the past year. People’s incomes have plummeted due to reductions in trade, tourism, informal activities and remittances,” the FAO said.
African is still insecure in terms of food production and distribution.
All this requires Africa to continue to implement strategies to address both short and long term needs of the continent.
In addition, African countries need to invest more in the agricultural sector and in research and development activities.
State agriculture ministries, local governments and the private sector should invest in modern processing equipment for grains such as sorghum, millet, maize, rice and other key crops to boost food production on the continent.
This equipment should vary in size and type to meet the requirements of both smallholder farmers, commercial growers, SMES and the large processing industries.
The population is growing due to the rapid urbanisation of the continent. There are so many mouths to feed and Africa needs to explore diverse strategies and options to grow enough food for its people.
The promotion of indigenous small grains, wild food relatives and the consumption of an array of insects found on the continent need to be promoted.
Eating insects needs to be brought back into our mainstream diet as Africans to help tap into our rich diversity of edible insects.
Worldwide some 2 billion people consume insects and we as Africans should not shun this practise.
Africa has the richest diversity of edible insects than anywhere else in the world.
Here in Zimbabwe, we have a diverse range of edible insects that include amacimbi/ madora, ishwa, locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, harurwa and numerous others.
These edible insects are harvested from the wild and are rich in proteins and other micro-nutrients.
More needs to be done to promote the understanding of, and knowledge of edible indigenous insects.
Africans need to change their attitudes towards the consumption of wild food options.
Apart from edible insects, Africa still holds a rich and diverse stock of indigenous vegetables.
In Zimbabwe, we have indigenous vegetables such as tsunga, nyevhe, mutsine, derere rebupwe, regusha, rename and renyunje and indigenous crop varieties like sorghum, pearl and finger millets, cowpeas, taro, madhumbe and bambara nuts.
These are now seen as neglected and under-utilised crop species (NUS) which farmers and public health experts argue are important in improving the nutrition of people, particularly now when there is a rise in non-communicable diseases such as cancers and diabetes.
We need to reclaim and use indigenous food to break dependence on commercial varieties and food imports and to counter the effects climate change and hunger crises.
Our African traditional foods are nutritious and good for our bodies. They improve our health. We should not be apologetic about this. We and our children should be proud about this.”
Heavy reliance on maize, Zimbabwe’s staple, has brought distress, particular in drought prone districts.
Most farmers who relied on commercial seeds do not harvest enough as a result of their unsuitability to areas with marginal soils.
But those who plant small grains have something to put on their table.
As Africans we have to preserve indigenous varieties to enhance household food security and climate change resilience.
Indigenous crop varieties are being lost at an alarming rate leading to an irretrievable loss of options to ensure food and nutrition security in the country.
Indigenous vegetables are still seen as poverty crops. They are still seen as food for the poor, the lower class.
We need to change our mentality and attitudes towards indigenous food if we are serious about promoting traditional vegetables.
African countries need to mobilise resources to conduct extensive research on indigenous vegetables to develop new breeds that could meet new demands for taste and other properties.
In addition, we need to explore ways to prepare tasty and appealing indigenous vegetable dishes so that our young people can eat them as well.
As we move towards the 60th jubilee of the founding of the AU, we need to think more and to grow what we eat. Food security matters most.