Causes of food insecurity in Southern Africa : an assessment

Abdalla, Yousif Ismael (2007-12)

Thesis (MScAgric (Agricultural Economics))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


Regional food security is considered one of the major challenges for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. SADC is one of the regions in the world currently facing widespread transitory and chronic food insecurity (malnutrition), as well as persistent threats of acute food insecurity (famine). The objective of this thesis, therefore, was to investigate and assess the prevailing causes of food insecurity in Southern Africa. The research revealed that transitory and chronic food insecurity (malnutrition) in the SADC region exists due to the problems experienced with both the supply and demand sides of the food security equation. However, though SADC has made limited attempts to tackle the problem of food insecurity in the region, the Community did not appear to learn from the 1991/92 food insecurity crisis when it recurred in 2001/02. This study consequently recommends that further investigations take place into the primary data available in an attempt to address various issues relating to the causes of food insecurity in Southern Africa in order to ensure long-term food security. Such issues include the following: mobilising agriculture to increase food production rapidly enough to meet the needs of the growing population of the region; bridging the prevailing gap between the public actors, on the one side, and the private and informal actors, on the other, in order to deliver effective food security services to the needy in the region; the designing of well-targeted food pricing policies as an interim compromise between the social concerns relating to high and volatile food prices and long-term economic growth and food security in the region; and the identification of the role of women as food producers and agents of food security in the region. On the supply side, the main food availability problems in the region lie on the agricultural level. Low productivity and frequent disasters have been of a cyclic nature in SADC, leading to additional difficulties with supplies. Such difficulties have been compounded by the inadequate political support of the sector; a lack of investment therein; the instability of the world market; and an increasingly unfair trade environment. Other major dimensions of the problem include: the imposition of trade barriers, such as tariff, non-tariff and technical barriers, particularly the complex and confusing tariff structure imposed by the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) countries against other non-SACU SADC countries; the high cost of transport, especially in landlocked countries, which has come about as a result of the weakening of the capacity and efficiency of the transport system in the region, due to a lack of investment in, as well as the poor performance of, the transport sector. A lack of a diversified production structure in the SADC region was cited as the main obstacle to the successful trade integration and economic development of the region. Looking at the demand side, the main food access problems in the region consisted of a lack of food entitlement (poverty) due to the weak economic growth resulting from unsuccessful macroeconomic policies; a poor balance of payments situation; highly skewed patterns of income and wealth distribution, resulting from maladministration due to short-sighted past colonial policies; high levels of unemployment and land tenure insecurity; the failure of governance, both as regards a lack of accountability and opposition to democratisation; and financial mismanagement. Rapid population growth in the region resulted in an escalation in the demand for agricultural products, in particular foodstuffs, and the reduced availability of arable land. The widespread preponderance of Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) infection was complicating the task of fighting hunger and undermining any attempts to strengthen the livelihoods of the poor by depleting the adult agricultural labour potential in Southern Africa. A lack of financial resources and institutional capacity (in the form of policy gaps) were the main constraints to the implementation of successful poverty and food insecurity alleviation programmes in the region, as comprehensive government intervention aimed at maintaining food security in the region for most Southern Africans was unfeasible in the near future. The research was conducted using the qualitative method of literature study, which proved a useful descriptive and analytical framework for revealing significant causes of food insecurity prevailing both in individual, households and at national levels in the SADC region. The study focused mainly on the availability, and the ability to acquire, food, in an attempt to see how balance could be achieved between the supply and demand sides of the food security equation by means of relevant investigations. Documentary data were consulted in investigating the problem, in the light of the fact that publications, such as books, academic journals and documents, illustrate the problem most clearly. In the planning of policy interventions, food insecurity in Southern Africa appears open to improvement in the long term only if the actual income of households is increased, so that they can afford to obtain enough food. Such improvement can take place in two ways: Firstly, by giving the people who face transitory and chronic food insecurity the opportunity to earn enough to ensure that they can maintain an adequate food supply through domestic production, by improving agricultural yield, and hence ensuring food security, at household level, and secondly, by means of the facilitation of trade (in the form of food imports), by eliminating tariff, non-tariff and technical barriers, and investing in the development of the transport infrastructure in the SADC region.

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