Soaring food prices: Africa on red alert

By all indications, Africa is on red alert as reports of soaring food prices reach even the remotest of villages on the continent. Fortunately, to abate this looming crisis, the implementation of Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) - Pillar 3 agenda has gained momentum and is reinforced by the Thematic Working Group (TWG) on Agriculture and Food Security of the MDG Initiative for Africa which has recently been established under the auspices of the United Nations and the African Union.

By all indications, Africa is on red alert as reports of soaring food prices reach even the remotest of villages on the continent. Fortunately, to abate this looming crisis, the implementation of Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) - Pillar 3 agenda has gained momentum and is reinforced by the Thematic Working Group (TWG) on Agriculture and Food Security of the MDG Initiative for Africa which has recently been established under the auspices of the United Nations and the African Union.

To further support this momentum in implementation of CAADP Pillar 3—

"Increasing food supply, reducing hunger and improving responses to food emergency crises"— the Framework for African Food Security (FAFS) has been developed and will form in part, among other instruments, the basis for immediate to long-term action at country level.

According to several reviews on progress for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) globally and for Africa, things are not looking too good for the African continent.

Many countries are still lagging too far behind to contemplate achieving MDG1 –

"halving hunger by 2015" – and indeed other MDGs.

Unfortunately in some pockets of Africa the food and nutrition situation has in actual fact deteriorated. There continues to be many who go hungry and suffer from a host of nutritional disorders, particularly vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as a result of food insecurity due to poverty and other causes.

Taking stock of the progress made in developing the CAADP round tables and responding to the need to accelerate the implementation of food security and nutrition action plans is critical, particularly in view of the current trend in rising food prices and its negative effects on food security and food access by vulnerable groups.

Considering that high food prices also represent an opportunity for African agriculture and for increased agricultural productivity and investment, the African Union through the NEPAD Secretariat and its development partners have agreed on a common process to operationalise CAADP Pillar 3 at the country level.

This process will involve preparing country concept notes and preparing projects and programmes through an inclusive consultative process leading to a joint programming workshop and concerted country assistance, as foreseen in the framework of CAADP Pillar 3 and the MDG Africa Initiative.

At the just-ended meetings of the African Union, NEPAD, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and CAADP country focal points, held in Mahe, Seychelles on 17-20 March 2008, the issue of escalating food prices and its consequences was given priority on the agenda.

These discussions were later joined by some development partners to further shed some light on how to best nip the problem in the bud.

What emerged from these deliberations was clearly that the AU and NEPAD, with support from the international community, are ready to tackle the problem head on and with a sense of the required urgency and vigour. Therefore the first proposed country planning/programming process will take place in May 2008 for an initial set of countries still to be confirmed.

Many may be still pondering whether in one sense this could be a case of "food, versus feed, or fuel". Well, suffice to say that whatever crises and challenges lie ahead, there are always opportunities for Africa to feed its citizenry adequately and move towards the attainment of the MDGs.

As already agreed and endorsed in various forums and leadership platforms, support for the implementation of agriculture and food-security-related initiatives to reduce hunger and malnutrition should happen as part of the defined priorities of CAADP within the broader AU and NEPAD frameworks.

Planning, and implementing programmes and projects on a coordinated front – with RECs, countries, and development partners -- is our best bet if not our only hope for effectively tackling these emerging and recurring continental challenges in food and nutrition security.

Boitshepo Bibigiyose is a NEPAD Advisor, Food and Nutrition Security

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