Food insecurity: A looming catastrophe

06 Sep 2019


A Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis (BIDPA) research paper by Pelotshweu Moepeng on “Food Security, Agricultural Policy and Environmental Interface: African Perspective” highlights that Botswana is a flat country with the Kalahari Desert covering more than two thirds of its size.

According to Moepeng, in Botswana, approaches towards addressing food insecurity problems have changed from the 1970s-80s food self-sufficiency to food security since the 1990s. The objective was to pursue good macroeconomic management and employment creation through the diversification of the economy.

In 1997 the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) defined food security to refer to access by all people at all times to enough acceptable food for an active, health life. The emphasis is on access to acceptable food or whether people have sufficient command over food.

Fortunately, in Botswana, chronic food shortage has not been reported, but transient food insecurity is prevalent. Food insecurity in Botswana is associated with high rates of crop failure and lack of employment.

Moepeng submits that it is generally agreed that household food security can only be achieved if macro-level availability of food is guaranteed, and opportunities to access acceptable food either through own production, purchase or transfers are also available.

It has also been observed by various researchers that peace, democracy and transparent participatory processes are critical elements necessary towards the achievement of food security and prevention of famines, and this has formed the basis of Botswana approach to its food security policy.

Food prices are a major factor towards food security in Botswana. The poor spend between 50 and 80 percent of their income on food. It is also argued that Botswana cannot influence food prices through production.

Arable agriculture is constrained by low and erratic rainfall, endemic droughts and uncertain and scattered water resources for irrigation.

Price stabilization and a stable macroeconomic performance contributed significantly to stability in food security.

According to Moepeng, past food self-sufficiency based agricultural policy concentrated on input subsidies which were not successful in generating the desired employment in agriculture. Although both were popular and successful distributive mechanisms of farm inputs, no increased productivity in subsistence farming production was observed. Reasons included implementation during prolonged droughts and inadequate monitoring.

Moepeng therefore argues that the next agricultural policy should focus on the development of commercial arable agriculture in high potential zones for sustainable output and job creation which will be expected to increase new employment opportunities in commercial agriculture for the poor by 50 percent and develop linkages with other sectors that would provide a further 15 percent increase in total employment, which will also contribute towards food security.

To avoid the pitfalls of its people being entrapped in absolute food insecurity, Botswana devised an extensive food security safety net programmes which include among others the Old Age Pension Scheme and supplementary feeding programmes to vulnerable groups. This feeding programme has benefitted 75 percent of the target related groups and all primary school children in the year 2001.

Other social safety net programmes are the remote Area Dweller Programme that targets mainly the Sam, the Destitute Programme, and the Orphans Support programme. The GDP share of social and personal service in 2000/01 which includes the above programmes is four percent.

The labour based public works programme employed 57 717 able-bodied person in 2001 who experienced crop failure or lack of employment.

Despite the precarious situation the country finds itself in, Botswana’s early warning system is very effective with a strong political support to address food security issues according to Moepeng who adds that the system is supervised by the chief executives of government ministries and representatives of the civil society, business, traditional leadership and non-governmental organizations, who are members of the Rural development Council that is chaired by the Minister of Finance and economic Development.

It is further observed by Moepeng that most parts of the SADC region are experiencing critical food insecurity problems as a result of widespread poverty, civil wars, political instability, poor economic management and insufficient trade and recurring droughts.

Botswana has however maintained a stable food security situation because of the stable macroeconomic policies, transparent and minimal levels of corruption, social responsibility and an effective monitoring system.

Moepeng however implores government to develop and exploit her potentials in agricultural production areas where she has comparative advantage. The country also needs to engage in regional trade beyond the SACU region. Another very important policy initiative should be to address the issue of land property rights around the villages and settlements in communal areas in order to encourage internalization of environmental externalities to users.

During a special seminar on food security during his tenure as chairman of SADC which was held in Gaborone, former President Ian Khama emphasized that combating regional food insecurity and poverty in all its forms required an array of multifaceted actions underpinned by the political and conducive policies in the case of agriculture.

Khama explained that food insecurity and poverty cannot be addressed in isolation and rather required that the practices and policies of various sectors be harmonized to address food security and poverty as a common agenda.

“We must further ensure that at all times fully engage marginalized groups, namely the youth and women, as well as the poor, in our efforts to improve agricultural production and avail the necessary resources that facilitate their access. Let us remain cognizant of our ongoing regional efforts to address the above challenges”, said Khama during the seminar.

It was also observed during the seminar that food is basic necessity without which people can never be said to live dignified lives. Dignified living entails healthy eating without which most populations become incapacitated to achieve their aspirations in a competitive world.

Democracy for the region should entail sufficient food supplies especially given that most countries emerging from devastating wars, colonialism and inequalities where the rich get richer while the poorer get to the extent that they fail to fend for themselves and turning to criminal activities as a last resort to address their plight.

The good news however is that undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa has declined from 28.1 percent in 2000 to 20.8 percent in 2015. With better nutrition, fewer children suffer from stinting, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as growth impaired so much that the height-for-age falls two standard deviations below the international average.

The percentage of children stunted in sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 49 percent in 1990 to 35 percent in 2016. Despite this overall shift, population growth has meant that the absolute number of stunted children increased in sub-Saharan Africa from 45 million in 1990 to 57 million in 2016.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region most affected by undernourishment and FAO measures undernourishment as the number of people older than 15 years who are “hungry but did not eat or went without eating for a whole day because there was not enough money or other resources for food”.