To create food security in Africa, focus on the value chain

Food security in Africa

The tragic famine in Somalia has once again focused concern on food security in Africa.  There are many facets to this issue, and many solutions. None is easy.  But, as the suffering in Somalia and other parts of the continent attest, all are necessary. Swaziland, a country about the size of New Jersey located in Southern Africa, has not been immune to food insecurity. Ours is an economy with a large agricultural sector, and thus highly dependent upon both natural forces and human innovation to sustain and increase our income and wealth. With the assistance of US and other investors, and well-developed trade links with South Africa and other neighboring countries, Swaziland has embarked on a systematic effort to add more value to our agricultural output. This will ensure food security for our citizens, provide avenues to increase incomes in a steady and consistent manner and lay the groundwork for the development of additional manufacturing and service sectors.

I believe this “value chain” approach holds much promise for the entire African continent, as well as agriculturally based economies in other areas of the world.  The American public and private sectors can help. An example of a successful project is a commercial community garden initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by International Relief & Development (IRD), a private global development organization. Working with Swaziland’s Ministry of Agriculture, National Agricultural Marketing Board, farming associations and other stakeholders, IRD has helped establish 39 commercial community gardens.   The produce grown and harvested in these gardens—in the US, they would be called small farms—is sold in local and foreign markets.  The key to the gardens’ success is data gathering and analysis that enables farmers to tailor output to specific markets.   It’s not enough to simply “grow enough food.”  The goal is to grow enough food and sell it in a way that increases the incomes of farmers and their communities.   This means understanding the varying levels of demand in local and foreign markets. It means learning about alternative methods to control pests and unwanted plants.  It means establishing relationships with distributors, marketing firms, processors and other market participants.

Of course, none of this can be achieved without new levels of education, coordination and organization.  IRD is assisting in that effort, implementing models that have proven successful in Gambia, Indonesia and other countries.  This qualitative community change is where the value chain approach to food security pays its largest long-term dividends. Farming communities that master the value chain and maximize their opportunities within it develop the skills to participate at higher levels of that chain.  Today’s farmer becomes tomorrow’s distributor or marketer, earning the higher incomes that accompany these higher-productivity activities. As important, these higher-productivity skills are transferable to other sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and services. This drives the development of new businesses and entirely new industries.

While there is a role for relief in addressing food insecurity, the only real solutions center on development. Through USAID, American citizens have made a small investment in the development of my country’s agricultural sector. US-funded programs have already paid dividends to dozens of communities who have access to more secure and healthier food and earn higher incomes to invest in their futures. Over time, these communities will seek additional capital and consumer goods, and will look to US and other producers to provide them. We are grateful for America’s generosity and the expertise of those in your public and private sectors who are helping us develop a higher level of self-sufficiency.   We will continue to partner with you to build a more prosperous, stable and free Africa.

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