Towards a food secure African continent - Arusha food experts workshop

African Experts on food security from both government and civil society met together at a workshop in Arusha, Tanzania on the 23rd and 24th March 2010 ahead of East African Community Heads of State Summit on Food Security.
The workshop examined options for rethinking and improving food and agriculture policies in light of the current increase in hunger in Africa.

Droughts, floods, food shortages and price inflations frequently headline Africa's news. Africa is generally bedevilled by increasing levels of food insecurity and poverty as indicated by low to medium Human Development Index (HDI), high indebtedness, high mortality rates and malnutrition. Recent food riots in some major African cities showcase citizens demanding for government intervention. Government responses have included the importation of large bales of grains to meet the shortages, handing out of seeds and increasing access to credit of farmers. Despite these numerous interventions, 265 million Africans every day go to bed hungry.

CAADP - placing agriculture at the centre of African policy

In the midst of these negative trends of development the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) has developed the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) to promote a more unified approach to agricultural growth in Africa. In 2003, the AU Heads of State meeting in Maputo declared that agriculture especially the smallholder sector was critical to the development of Africa. All parties to the agreement made a commitment to "increase public investment in agriculture by a minimum of 10 percent of their national budgets" and to "improve the productivity of agriculture to attain an average annual growth rate of 6 percent, with particular attention to small-scale farmers, especially focusing on women," by the year 2015.

The CAADP aims to "help African countries reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculturally-led development, which eliminates hunger, reduces poverty and food insecurity, and enables expansion of exports".

15 African states have thus far adopted the CAADP as their guiding tool for agricultural policy development and implementation.

On the other hand, in 2007, more than 500 representatives of various civil society formations inclusive of NGOs, farmers' unions, networks of economic justice and land rights and social movements gathered in Selingue, Mali, signed the Nyeleni Declaration on food sovereignty. In the declaration the signatories made demands for a more radical restructuring of the global food production system. In its place they advocated for local and national food markets that empower peasant and family farmer driven agriculture knows as the food sovereignty approach

The food sovereignty approach

The food sovereignty approach sees the production of food and the achievement of food security as the central goal and purpose of agriculture, rather than treating agricultural products as a commodity like any other.

Food sovereignty is anchored on 6 pillars.
First it focuses on food for the people, meaning that every single individual has a right to a sufficient, healthy and culturally appropriate meal.

Second, it values food providers, emphasising the need for food systems that enable food producers to earn a decent livelihood. This is particularly key in Africa where the majority of people living in hunger are smallscale farmers. Several farmer leaders participating at the experts' workshop and representing the 4 regional blocs felt their role in providing adequate food within their countries had been underrated.

The third and fourth pillars stress the need for effective food systems to be locally based and locally controlled and for the policies that guide these food systems to be locally determined. Women farmers, indigenous people, migrants, agricultural and fishery labourers and pastoralists represented at the workshop who have long felt excluded from the formulation of food and agriculture policies felt their needs could be better addressed within a food sovereignty approach. It is vital that food producers have a voice in determining policies that affect their own lives on such a fundamental level as the right to food.

Fifth, it encourages policies that build on the existing knowledge and skills. It seeks to overturn the prejudice that the expert knowledge and guidance needed to formulate policy can only come from ‘scientists' and not from farmers themselves. According to Madame Korotomou Gariko, a female smallscale farmer leader from Burkina Faso, well defined property rights over natural resources and indigenous knowledge in favour of local communities does need to be prioritised.

Finally, food sovereignty highlights the need for an environmentally sustainable approach, promoting agro-ecological methods of farming. In today's context of climate change, this has particular relevance. Unlike industrial farming, which is a major contributor to climate change gases, small-scale farming using sustainable methods can actually reduce levels of carbon dioxide. Africa's current debates around government allocation of land to foreign governments for bio-fuel use could best be addressed in a food sovereignty approach.

Agriculture through a food sovereignty and gender lens

As part of an effort to reconcile the seemingly divergent opinions on how to stem the tide of food insecurity ACORD in partnership with Oxfam Novib, Actionaid, African Right to Food Network and PELUM 2009 developed an assessment framework of the extent to which CAADP and other related policies or programmes contribute towards the realisation of food sovereignty especially for women. The assessment framework was internally formulated by a team of experts and later circulated to a wider group inclusive of gender and food rights activists for discussion.

The purpose of the framework is to provide a yard stick against which agricultural, pastoral or food security policies can be assessed and the extent to which it incorporates the food sovereignty principles as well as contribute towards the realisation of food sovereignty. In addition, the framework also seeks to strengthen and articulate critical gender dimensions to food sovereignty principles.

Conference participants represented over 30 African countries grappling with similar food challenges. They examined possibilities of using an agricultural policy analytical tool that uses the food sovereignty approach to respond to the needs of Africa's populations. Representatives' of small-scale farmer organisations reiterated the need for processes of the institutional strengthening of farmers' organizations and capacity building of farmers' leaders. Women rights leaders and HIV champions referring to the framework document felt particular attention should be paid to how women access other critical natural resources such as water, the nature of labour and gender relations at the household, farm and market levels.

The participants also discussed ways that food producing communities could make their concerns heard. Some ideas included ensuring that provision of material and resource support to farmers becomes a national election issue, popularising debates on policy formulation, making adequate food access an issue for all government ministries.


Africa has the potential to produce enough food to feed its people, and have a surplus leftover for export. Yet ten years after the Millennium Development Goals sought to halve the levels of hunger, the number of people in Africa living with constant hunger has actually increased.

Attaining the right to food for all of Africa's population shall likely be a gradual process, but food sovereignty should be a part of African efforts to reclaim their own development path which does not only promote food self sufficiency but also their own dignity.

  • agriculture
  • caadp
  • comesa
  • eac
  • food security
  • food sovereignty