As the impacts of climate change continue to intensify and global shocks upend business as usual, Sub-Saharan Africa is feeling the brunt of what has been coined “the perfect storm” – a food, fuel, and fertilizer crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, scarring effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, soaring inflation, rising debt, and extreme weather.
While inflation levels urgently need to be tamed and the burden of debt made more sustainable, perhaps no priority is more pressing than addressing food insecurity to safeguard the calorie and nutrition needs of Africa’s one billion people and protect their human development. At least one in five Africans goes to bed hungry and an estimated 140 million people in Africa face acute food insecurity, according to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises 2022 Mid-Year Update. The Horn of Africa is suffering from persistent drought and countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat and sunflower oil imports have seen prices skyrocket out of reach of ordinary people.
Enabling the Poorest Households to Feed their Families
Across the sub-region, social protection programs have been essential to enable households to cope with high food prices and localized shortages. The poorest households are the most vulnerable since they spend the largest share of their income on food.
In Somalia, "the Baxnaano program came to us at a right moment,” relates Ms. Nishey Mohamed Kheyre, a mother of eight, living in the Bakool region. “Our livelihood was mainly dependent on farming, but we have been impacted in recent years by bad harvests and locust infestation. We have been getting assistance for some time now, and the money I got was used to purchase food, clothing, and pay school fees for my children who are currently attending school in Xuddur. I was even able to buy some chickens for our household and sell the eggs for income."
Since its launch in 2019, Baxnaano has provided a platform for the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) to play a new and continuing role in social safety net provision to households facing chronic poverty and the aggravating impacts of multiple climate-related shocks. More than 1 million people (about 9% of the population) have received nutrition-linked unconditional cash transfers to meet basic consumption needs.
Baxnaano’s built-in shock-responsive features protected food security and livelihoods of an additional 600,000 people from a major 2020 locust outbreak through temporary scale up of the regular program and delivery of emergency cash transfers (ECTs). By laying the foundations of the first state-led social safety net system in Somalia, Baxnaano has worked to help restore citizens’ trust in state institutions and contribute to the FGS’ state-building efforts.
The pandemic also increased the vulnerability of urban households previously left out of social protection programs. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Solidarity by Economic Transfers Against the Poverty in Kinshasa or STEP-KIN program stepped up to protect urban households suffering from food insecurity and loss of livelihoods. STEP-KIN set up a cash transfer program from scratch, using a combination of digital tools to overcome a severely data-constrained environment to target and deliver cash transfers to vulnerable households in Kinshasa. The emergency digital cash transfer program identified, registered, and paid more than 270,000 individuals in 100 poor neighborhoods, becoming the largest cash-based operation in Kinshasa.
Catherine Eswabo, a doughnut seller, was one of the beneficiaries. She wonders how her family would have survived without the program. "The cash was the only means for my family to stock up on corn flour, rice, and oil during lockdown, leaving the rest to the vagaries of day-to-day coping,” she said. "Now that wheat flour price has doubled, my doughnut business is wrecked, my family desperately needs assistance to cope with rising food prices." Mrs. Eswabo’s family now only relies on the income of her husband, a motorcycle taxi driver whose business is increasingly disrupted by repetitive fuel crisis. The next phase of STEP-KIN will reach an additional 250,000 beneficiaries.
A forthcoming assessment survey found that STEP-KIN recipients mainly used the cash transfers to pay for food (46%), followed by education (35%), reinvesting in their livelihoods (32%), and rent (12%).
Seizing Agribusiness Opportunities
Bruno Mweemba, the managing director of Panuka Farms in Zambia, a small horticulture business, believes that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) like his play an important role in ensuring the region’s food security. Thanks to the World Bank-supported Zambia Agribusiness and Trade Project, Panuka Farms was able to modernize its cold storage and switch from open field farming to greenhouse cultivation — allowing Mweemba to reduce food losses and climate-proof his production, increasing food supply in a changing climate. By meeting the demand for high-value vegetables such as English cucumbers, Panuka Farms has been able to compete with imported foods to supply produce to retailers like Shoprite and Pick-n-Pay, allowing Zambians to access fresher produce at a lower price. His farm has also been able to produce new jobs as he now employs 24 staff, most of them recent college graduates who are given the opportunity to manage different aspects of the farm.
The ongoing IDA-financed project has led to growth and job creation in the country’s increasingly dynamic agribusiness sector, through matching grants and productive alliances that allow farmers to pool their efforts and successfully compete with food imports in terms of quantity, quality, and consistency. In addition to providing access to finance, the project helped 232 agribusiness firms with business development services through coaching and mentorship sessions.
In Malawi, the World Bank-financed Agricultural Commercialization Project (AGCOM) is helping markets work for smallholders who already operate commercially or are in transition to becoming commercial. A few years in, the results are promising - the benefits of investing in smallholder commercial agriculture, and the approach, known as “productive alliances”, is proving to be an effective way for smallholders to get organized and improve their productivity and sales. Part of this approach involves building and strengthening farmer organizations, allowing small-holder farmers in Malawi to seize market opportunities because as a group they are able to get more information, reduce costs, and reap the rewards that come from selling in volume. AGCOM’s productive alliances are also fostering job creation in Malawi. Opportunities for employment are crucial to buffer the impact of the looming food crisis and create opportunities for the 400,000-plus young people joining the workforce in Malawi every year. AGCOM has raised the expectations of smallholder farmers, agribusinesses, and government authorities. It has shown them that commercialized smallholder agriculture can be a source of growth to help Malawi weather the global food crisis. In the medium- and long-term, it can also help overcome poverty driven by the subsistence mono-cropping of maize, writes Francisco Obreque, Senior Agricultural Specialist, reflecting on the project’s impact in a blog published in August.
Seizing market opportunities also requires investing in the infrastructure that allows farmers to bring their produce to market quickly, safely, and affordably. For years, the poor condition of the main road to the Alaotra Mangoro Region in Madagascar stunted agricultural productivity and the region’s food production potential. Now, thanks to the IDA financed Connectivity for Rural Livelihood Improvement Project, a 40km section of the RN44 is complete, resulting in reduced travel time between Marovoay and Vohidiala from eight hours to three. Farmers are thrilled to see an increase in their prices now that they can easily reach Ambatondrazaka, the capital city of the region, where they can set better prices for their products. What used to cost as low as 400 ariary per kilo, can now be sold at more than three times as much.
Completion of the project’s second phase is expected to more than double the agricultural output of select agriculture products such as litchi – a boon for a country suffering from severe malnutrition and food insecurity. Improving connectivity, resilience, and management of key roads to provide reliable and year-long access to the southern part of the country , which is most affected by food insecurity, is an essential step to unlocking a key agricultural region in the northwest.
Climate change and extreme weather are posing severe threats to farmers across Eastern and Southern Africa. These farmers rely on their crops to feed themselves, their families, their communities, and their countries – a fragile food chain that is incredibly vulnerable to changing weather patterns. Protecting these farmers and building their crops’ resilience to climate change is therefore paramount on the food security agenda.
Along with the shade netting provided by the Smallholder Agriculture Development Project (SADP) II to protect his crops from frost, Petje was also able to invest in the plastic tunnelling necessary to protect his lettuce, cabbage, tomato, and potato crops from hail. With his expanded farm and the ability to grow crops throughout the year despite the increases in hailstorms and chilly weather that have come with climate changes, he is now able to sell his vegetables and fruit in local grocery stores.
In Kenya, the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) Project is helping to increase agricultural productivity and build resilience to climate-change risks in smallholder farming and pastoral communities. This is done by scaling up climate-smart agricultural practices, strengthening climate-smart agricultural research and seed systems, and supporting agrometeorological, market, climate, and advisory services.
In the words of Bobojon Yatimov, World Bank Senior Agricultural Specialist for Lesotho: “It is imperative to support farmers who rely on the food they grow for their families and for income, especially given that climate shocks are more frequent than ever before […] Prolonged and severe droughts of 2016 and 2019, and the floods of the 2021 and 2022 are clear manifestations of this changing weather patterns, which is adversely affecting the agriculture sector.”
Climate-resilient food systems are also the focus of a new $2.3 billion regional program, approved by the World Bank in June 2022, available to Eastern and Southern African countries wishing to tackle the underlying structural challenges of food insecurity and address their vulnerability to unpredictable shocks. The first phase of financing will support Madagascar and Ethiopia, two countries which are facing acute food insecurity and historic droughts.
The first phase will also support the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which will strengthen information and data sharing, and the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA), which will leverage its existing networks and outreach tools for regional coordination mechanisms. With a total financing package of $788.10 million, the initial phase of the program is expected to benefit 2.3 million people.