25 July 2012

East Africa: Heed Message in Development Report

The energy needs of a country are rarely mentioned in terms of calories, yet they fuel a nation's human resource.

In sub-Sahara Africa, according to the Africa Human Development Report 2012 themed, Towards a Food Secure Future, "more than one in four Africans is undernourished, and food insecurity (inability to consistently acquire enough calories and nutrients for a healthy and productive life) is pervasive."

Closer home in the East African Community, according to The State of East Africa 2012 Report, individuals in most countries in the region, including Rwanda, have been described as having "consumed a little less than 2,060 calories per day" on average. Only Uganda consumed above that figure.

To be sure, calorie needs vary greatly, depending on age, weight, activity level, metabolic rate and other factors. The East Africans do not seem too badly off.

On the other hand, the Africa Human Development Report observes that misguided policies, weak institutions and failing markets are the main causes of sub-Saharan Africa's food insecurity. It adds that this is most evident in households and communities, where unequal power relations trap vulnerable groups such as subsistence farmers, the landless poor, many women and children - all of whom endure in a vicious cycle of deprivation, food insecurity and low human development.

The importance of agriculture on the continent is obvious, and cannot be gainsaid. For most Africans, especially the poor, the report emphasises, agriculture not only determines food security, but "is also the wellspring of income and work, core elements of human development. In turn, earnings and employment bolster food security by enabling access to sufficient quantities of nutritious food."

Nutrition or the calories are key in fueling development that is able to sustain itself. The report is, therefore, also emphatic that food security should be leveraged by empowering people to make their own choices and by building resilience in the face of shocks. It means preserving people's food entitlements-the income, market structures, institutional rules and governance that enable the poor to buy and trade food in fair markets.

It also means reinforcing essential human capabilities in health and education. Focusing policies on four areas - agricultural productivity, nutrition, resilience and empowerment - can unleash a dynamic virtuous cycle of food security and human development.

One of the key messages in the Africa Human Development Report, therefore, is that sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and better nutrition are the drivers of food-secure growth and human development.

"The argument is straightforward," the report confidently explains, noting that more productive agriculture will build food security by increasing food availability and lowering food prices, thus improving access. Higher productivity can also raise the incomes of millions of smallholder farmers, elevating living standards and improving health and education, thus expanding people's capabilities.

Through science, the report says, technology and the diffusion of innovation greater agricultural productivity can also enable better stewardship of the environment. Sound nutrition links food security to human development. Well-nourished people exercise their freedoms and capabilities in different domains - the essence of human development - and, completing the cycle, will be inclined to demand food security from their leaders.

The message in the Africa Human Development Report 2012 should be heeded by leaders on the continent, as it can only bode well for an Africa that is only just beginning to take off.

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