Afenyo-Markin calls for strong global response to food insecurity in West Africa

On Wednesday, a Crans Montana Forum opened in Geneva, Switzerland, with concerns about food security taking centre stage.

Various speakers highlighted the impact of the raging war in Ukraine in a post-COVID-19 world on food supplies and supply chains worldwide.

One of the Speakers was Deputy Majority Leader and Member of Parliament for Effutu, Alexander Kwamena Afenyo-Markin, who leads Ghana’s delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, Nigeria.

In his speech to the global audience attending the three-day event, Mr Afenyo-Markin warned that the war in Ukraine, coming after the COVID-19 pandemic, could deepen extreme poverty in West Africa and increase insecurity within the region.

Mr Afenyo-Markin cautioned that with many West Africans facing rising food prices, more and more governments could face “hunger riots” that may trigger costly insecurity within various national borders.

In his words, prevailing “socio-political upheavals in the West African and Sahelian regions, such as the Islamic Jihadist conflict, livestock herders and farmers conflict… banditry and kidnapping… have greatly exacerbated the food and nutrition crisis the region has been experiencing.”

Millions Face Hunger

According to the Crans Montana Forum organisers, food security exists when all people constantly have physical and money-related access to sufficient and nutritious support to meet their dietary needs.

The challenge, therefore, is for the world to “deliver nutritious, safe and affordable food to a population of over 9 billion in the coming decades, using less land, fewer inputs, with less waste and a lower environmental impact while conserving natural resources, and empowering local, regional and national small scale farmers organisations and movements”.

Already, vast populations in Africa, an economically vulnerable continent, are struggling to cope with growing food demands and soaring food prices. Figures show that 278 million people in Africa suffer from chronic hunger. Experts say that food insecurity in Africa makes the continent the most affected by malnutrition, with a prevalence projected at 21 percent, compared to 9.9 per cent worldwide.

In the Sahel, aid agencies say food insecurity continues to deteriorate annually.

Some estimates say that communities across the Sahel will require not less than two years to recuperate from the prevailing hunger crisis. Where no intervention is made, the problem will escalate.

Further, the United Nations (UN) estimates that 46 million people in Africa experienced hunger in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The figure is the highest share of any continent in the world. In West Africa alone, extreme poverty grew by nearly three percent in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early October, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that 33 African nations needed external assistance for food. It cautioned that acute food insecurity could worsen in 18 of these economies in the following months. According to the FAO, the food crisis is particularly dreadful in parts of East and West Africa due to declines in agricultural production, several seasons of drought conditions and continuing conflicts.

Mr Afenyo-Markin, who chairs the Agriculture Committee of the ECOWAS Parliament, echoed the grim predictions about poverty and food insecurity within the West African and Sahel regions in his speech in Geneva. He warned that given “the drop in agro-pastoral production and the high” level of food prices, vulnerable households within ECOWAS will find it difficult to get food.

He stated that the impact on the poorest of the poor could be worst when “the ongoing mitigating plans as well as boosting the means of existence of the households, are not sufficiently supported.”

Ghana’s ‘Success Stories’

Mr Afenyo-Markin stated that “very high” global acute malnutrition rates have been recorded, particularly “in ….Chad, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania and the Northern part of certain coastal countries. Likewise, he added, “high prevalence rates have been observed in the localised zones of certain countries, particularly in Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Niger. The food difficulties …recorded all these years could [hurt] the prevalence levels that already are a concern.”

Mr Afenyo-Markin hailed West Africa as the “third largest agricultural production power in all of Africa” but quickly pointed out that “this is not a definitive achievement.”

He explained: “There must be an agenda, and the region has developed a multitude of strategies for using water, land and the resilience of people and their livelihoods. Indeed, it works simultaneously on the mitigation of climate change, and on the adaptation of production systems by acting on the various factors of production, such as land ecosystems, water, pasture, and socio-economic and human ecosystems.”

The Ghanaian lawmaker cited Ghana’s School Feeding and Planting for Food and Jobs Programs as examples of how purposeful political leadership can help lessen the impact of rising food prices and food insecurity. Therefore, he invited the international community to work with ECOWAS to replicate Ghana’s success stories to help confront “malnutrition in both the Sahel region and West Africa”.

The Search for Solutions

To deal with the problem of food insecurity, Mr Afenyo-Markin told the global audience that “early answers to the emergency situations,” can be provided “by strengthening the programs on prevention and development and taking account of the specificities of each country in the interest of the most vulnerable groups.”

The Effutu MP, therefore, used the platform to highlight some of the critical interventions the regional bloc has introduced to contain the rising threat of food insecurity.

Mr Afenyo-Markin added that leaders must provide the requisite political will to confront food insecurity within the region to yield the best returns. He said this will help create “value chains for food and nutrition security in the ECOWAS region” and help serve as “an important factor for the overall development of the West Africa region.”

Mr Afenyo-Markin’s presentation went beyond the seeming doom and gloom hanging over West Africa’s food sector to deal with regional-level measures deployed to address the problem and help the region attain medium to long-term food security.

He said one solution was the ECOWAS Agriculture Policy (ECOWAP), which is “anchored on the Regional Programme CAADP of the African Union (AU).” According to him, the “first generation of ECOWAP1 (2025 – 2015) has been implemented, and the current ECOWAP11 (2016 – 2025) is currently under implementation.”

He added that two framework instruments guide the implementation of ECOWAP. They are “a Regional Agricultural Investment Plan (RAIP), developed at the regional level and a National Agricultural Investment Plan (NAIP) developed by each Member State.”

Mr Afenyo-Markin explained that the “central objective” of ECOWAP concerns “contributing, in a sustainable manner, to meeting the food needs of the people, economic and social development and poverty reduction in the Member States”.

He went on: “Taking into account the structure of the sector and the diversity of farming and production systems, the agricultural policy is based on the perspective of modern and sustainable agriculture, the effectiveness and efficiency of family farms, the promotion of agricultural enterprises through the private sector involvement, productive and competitive on the intra-community market, and international markets.”

According to Mr Afenyo-Markin, the policy has three main lines of action assigned to it. They are increasing agriculture’s productivity and competitiveness, implementing an intra-community trade regime and adapting the external trade regime.

But, he said, there are some nagging concerns and challenges for the project. He said these include “the cyclical aggravation of the food situation and political risks induced by hunger riots and exacerbation of conflicts.” Another challenge was the grim “global food outlook as a result of population growth, slower agricultural growth, the fossil fuel crisis …and climate change.”

The French Perspective

Earlier, Alpha Barry, who was Burkina Faso’s Minister for Foreign Affairs between 2016-2021, told the Crans Montana Forum that although the food and economic crisis in Africa requires “an exceptional global mobilisation” to help deal with the situation, the world is failing to provide the requisite leadership in that regard.

He launched a veiled criticism at Western governments for pumping billions of US Dollars into the war in Ukraine while doing very little or nothing to help Africa. He said Africa needs something akin to the “exceptional solidarity and mobilisation” being done by the West to support Ukraine if it is to surmount its economic challenges.

Taking her turn, Marisol Touraine, Former Minister of Social Affairs and Health of France, asked world leaders to stop acting in “silos” in their effort to deal with the raging food crisis in the world. She told the forum that global “solidarity” would be essential in dealing with the world’s food-related challenges.

She also challenged world leaders to be more “innovative” in the search for solutions to the world’s problems.

What is The Crans Montana Forum?

The Crans Montana Forum is a Non-Governmental International Organization founded in 1986 to build a better world “Towards a more Humane World”.

It organises many events per year, enabling decision-makers, always at a high level, generally from about a hundred countries, to meet in a private and informal setting to discuss the political, social, economic and security challenges facing the world.

The forums also create unique opportunities for Businesses and Government Officials to network and strengthen their partnership relations.

Participants at the ongoing forum in Geneva include a powerful delegation from the ECOWAS Parliament, which seats in Abuja. The Regional Parliament’s Speaker, Rt Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis, leads the ECOWAS delegation to the forum in Geneva.