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Sub Saharan Africa: Raising Its Profile on Global Food Security Issues -- Part One

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Part of the FEEEDS™ series

Can Sub-Saharan Africa be the next bread basket for the world, helping to address global food security issues? The answer is yes; the challenge is how. Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world have a key role to play in leading, designing, deciding, and shaping food security policy for the coming decades. Why? Because of several key indicators that should not be either underestimated or overlooked. For Sub-Saharan Africa the indicators that are the most important to focus on are: its population size and youth bulge; its ability to manage its water resources; and its available arable and cultivated land. Looking at the indicators of population, economic growth, water and land use -- what I like to call key impact indicators on food availability -- Sub-Saharan Africa has an opportunity to do things differently earlier on its development and modernization life, something that few other world regions have today outside of Latin America.* Africa should be one of the leading regions in shaping global food security policies and feeding the future instead of others shaping it for Africa. Developing practical, integrative and more small-scale solutions for agricultural inputs and outputs, farming, and for managing both land and water resources, will help Africa provide for future generations on the Continent and elsewhere.

A closer look at the key impact indicator of population and practical, innovative and integrative solutions below will demonstrate why Africa should raise its profile and be a leading voice and how global food security policy unfolds (the impact indicators of water and land will be addressed in a separate blog):

Sub Saharan Africa's Young Population -- Future Farmers

Who are the next generations of farmers and where are they going to come from?

Sub Saharan Africa's population is young, with more than half of the people living on the Continent under the age of 25. With current continent-wide population growth rates averaging 2.45 and estimated to remain on that level up through 2050, Africa is on track to be home to 1.9 million people by 2050. In addition, although Africa is the third-largest continent, it is reportedly the fastest growing with reportedly the billionth person born there in 2010. With half its population being under 25 now and if the trajectory remains the same, Africa would be host to 29 percent of the people in the world of that age group. What does this mean for the foundations of food security (adequate, nutritional, and available food)? It means that Africa must encourage its youth to see its food security issues as vital to its development in the first instance and be a exporting Continent of key staples in the second instance. Most African countries remain major importers of key staples such as rice, maize and wheat, and are not self-sufficient in cassava, cow peas and other commodities. In addition, innovation and integration needs to enter the picture more as both exports increase and crop self-sufficiency issues are addressed. Alternative crop uses must also be sought. For example, Nigeria is host to a cooperative-based cassava-to-glucose agribusiness (a non-traditional use of cassava) which supplies glucose not only in Nigeria but to other countries in the West African sub-region.

With this large population, and the sheer size of the continent, the affects of poor development in food security policy going forward will likely hit Africa harder than any other region. But solutions need to be thoughtful and forward leaning. So what to do?

a.) Focus on training this cadre of youth to see farming in a new and different way, along with a different approach -- organized small-scale farmers (cooperatives or groups of cooperatives) that produce quality and improved yields in environmentally sustainable ways (i.e. waste management, using solar and wind energy, etc.).

b.) Work with these new farmers and current farmers (particularly women) to develop more innovative technology to improved crop rotation, hybrid seeds, water harvesting and climate change sensitive irrigation techniques (drip, solar driven, etc) to assist with aquaculture and ;

c.) Seek integrative solutions connecting food security to other quality of life issues such as health (food storage and safety) and education. Some of the best small scale projects in sub Saharan Africa are examples in Republic of Congo, Benin, Tanzania, and Nigeria and several other places where health issues of cooperative farmers are addressed along with food safety and storage or when small gardens are developed for schools, ensuring a healthy school time meal for students, teachers, and mothers who bring their children to school. Benin's Songhai Integrative Projects uses appropriate technology, bio-gas and environmentally-sound approach to cooperative farming and small scale agro-industries.

The outcome: Reduced hunger, along with poverty reduction can occur as increased, quality yields are sold at market (or exported regionally) for income that can be used to address other quality of life issues (i.e. paying for school fees, housing and health services).

With proper planning, the right democratic leadership, and transparent resource management, forward leaning innovative food security policy, and integrative agriculture inputs and outputs, Africa's young population over the next decades can contribution enormously to addressing both continent-wide and global food security issues as many of the world's future farmers are right now today on the Continent.

(I define and use the term impact indicators as those issues that directly affect positively or negatively food security such as population, water, land, and economic growth/development. N.B. Use of the term Africa and all stats refer to sub Saharan Africa).