Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition

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Agricultural productivity and per capita income in the ECA region have either decreased or stagnated due to low use of inputs and mechanisation, poor adoption and utilisation of innovations, and inadequate policies to drive agricultural development. The population growth rate is higher than the agricultural production growth rate resulting in declining food and nutrition security. The ECA region is also extremely vulnerable to effects of climate change and climate variability and there is a compelling need to develop and implement strategies for adaptation of agricultural production systems to the current climatic trends.

This broad theme not only addresses challenges created by climate change, and pests and diseases of livestock and crops but also provides the opportunity to build on possibilities provided by the sub-region’s biodiversity and the techniques and options provided by biotechnology. It addresses both technical and enabling policies and institutions to transform the current subsistence oriented agriculture into vibrant market oriented agriculture. The theme will develop technologies and innovations for sustainable agricultural intensification to increase the overall system productivity.

The theme addresses issues of nutrition and food security with links to human health and its effects on agriculture/livelihoods. It also addresses issues of mechanisation; harvest processes; and postharvest handling, storage and processing. It is directly connected to Pillar IV of CAADP under Adaptive Management of Appropriate Germplasm and Policy for Sustainable Agriculture.

Priority sub-themes

1. Development and promotion of breeds, varieties and management practices for adaptation to climate change and variability: This is an area of concern given the current fluctuations in climate. There is need to develop and promote innovations to address and mitigate the effect of climate change. This will include: developing and upscaling TIMPs to cope with climate change (e.g. shorter maturing varieties, drought tolerant varieties, conservation agriculture, etc.); building farmers’ capacity for adaptation and mitigation of their production systems to the changing environment including exploiting indigenous knowledge and building regional capacity for climate forecasting interpretation and use.

2. Management of diseases and pests of strategic crops, livestock and fisheries: This will include: Developing TIMPs to cope with pests and diseases of crops, livestock and fisheries; enhancing regional capacity for surveillance and control of pests and diseases; developing diagnostic tools and control packages for major diseases including the use of biotechnology and traditional tools; and building public–private partnership for pests and diseases control.

3. Promotion of enabling gender responsive policies and institutions for sustainable agriculture, food and nutrition: Harmonising appropriate policies supporting sustainable agriculture is necessary for agricultural transformation to take root. This theme will cover policy frameworks for mitigating and adapting to climate change, policies on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and biosafety, intellectual property rights, seeds, standards, and genetic resources. The theme will also address the establishment of policy frameworks to halt transboundary spread of pests and diseases of crops, livestock and fisheries and policies to support sustainable agricultural intensification and value addition.

4. Post-harvest handling and processing of crop, livestock and fisheries resources: Only about 28% of the agricultural produce in the ECA region is processed. The main constraints include: limited technical skills base to run agro-processing facilities; poor maintenance of agro-processing facilities and equipment; and seasonality of production which is also unreliable due to climate variability resulting in surplus commodities at harvest times and collapse of prices and massive post-harvest losses followed by shortages (increasing food costs for consumers). Furthermore, limited utilisation of all sources of food (crops, livestock, fishery, aquatic, and marine resources, and forest products) leads to staple diets based on a very narrow selection of food sources. Other constraints include the long distances between centres of food production and the centres of consumption and the short stable shelf-life of most sources of food other than grains. Agro-processing and value addition would provide tremendous backward and forward linkages and multiplier effects, with respect to: increased access to markets that are distant in space and time; extension of the reach of food, also in space and time; creation of non-farm employment and income generation opportunities; reduction of post-harvest losses; and improvement of food quality and safety.

To mitigate and/or reduce the negative impacts of these factors, increased investment is required in value addition, processing and preservation to extend the shelf-life of the most perishable commodities. This has to be done without degrading the nutritional value, taste, and presentational characteristics of these commodities. Critical areas of intervention include: investment in agro-processing facilities for priority value chains; warehousing—because of the role it plays in bulking commodities and thus reducing transaction costs; establishment and/or expansion of centres of excellence dealing with agro-industries and agri-enterprises; establishment of extension services dealing with agro-industries and agri-enterprises; expansion and prioritisation of skills development in agro-industries and agribusiness; enhancement of regionally-shared support industries such as those dealing with manufacture of processing equipment; encouragement of strong synergies between agro-industries development and other programmes in agriculture and industries in general; and linkage of small and medium size agricultural producers to markets. The proposed investments require the development and scaling-up of TIMPs for value addition of strategic crops, livestock and fisheries; building of viable and effective public–private partnerships (PPP) for post-harvest handling and value addition; mainstreaming of nutrition into value addition and processing; crops, livestock and fisheries research and development processes; and building the regional capacity for value addition and processing of crops, livestock and fisheries resources.

5. Sustainable intensification of crop, livestock and fisheries systems: Sustainable agricultural intensification is defined as the production of more outputs with more efficient use of all inputs on a durable basis, while reducing environmental damage and building resilience, natural capital and the flow of environmental services. Sustainable intensification is implemented through three main approaches: ecological intensification, genetic intensification, and socio-economic intensification. Ecological intensification involves farming practices such as intercropping, integrated pest management, conservation farming and organic farming. Genetic intensification uses both conventional and modern biotechnological applications to avail improved crop varieties and animal breeds for higher yields, improved nutrition, tolerance to pests and diseases, resilience to climate change and efficient resource use. Socio-economic intensification involves creating enabling environments, building social and human capital and creating sustainable livelihoods. The ASARECA interventions will include: development of TIMPs to improve the productivity of crops, livestock and aquaculture, inland and marine fisheries systems; identification of national and regional opportunities to prioritise production; crop, livestock and fish integration to improve overall system productivity; building capacity for adoption of productivity enhancing technologies; enhancement of viable and sustainable seed systems; and enhancement of access and utilisation of nutritious and safe crops, livestock and fisheries products.

6. Conservation and utilisation of plant, animal and fish genetic resources: Climatic shocks and human activities are exacting immense pressure on biodiversity in ECA with negatives consequences on food security. This has resulted in unprecedented levels of species extinction and erosion of natural diversity (plant, animal and fisheries). This is likely to have a negative impact on human wealth, health and security. In 2008 the World Conservation Union21 estimated that 59% of the known plant species are currently threatened with extinction and likely to be subject to loss of genetic diversity. If left unchecked this may have a serious negative impact on humans and the environment. Through this sub-theme, projects that will promote conservation and use of the plant, animal and fisheries genetic resources will be developed and implemented.

7. Food and nutrition security for improved health: The ECA region has the highest proportion of undernourished people in the world (42.2%), almost double the average for sub Saharan Africa (26.8%). Although some countries are challenged with the double burden of malnutrition, undernourishment poses the greatest challenge in the region. Undernourishment directly and indirectly contributes up to 60% of child mortality in most countries in ECA. Micronutrient deficiencies (hidden hunger) affect most of the population in the region. It causes increased morbidity and mortality, impairs cognitive development and productivity due to frequent illness and disability, and therefore contributes to poverty. Overcoming food and nutrition insecurity is thus a precondition for ensuring a healthy population and sustainable development in ECA. Although increased food production is an underlying tenet to ensuring food security, there is a disparity between food production, food and nutritional security and health, especially amongst smallholder farmers who produce more than 80% of the food. Promoting food and nutrition security involves increasing production, access, and availability of quality nutritious foods to the consumers. This sub-theme will address increased availability and access to quality and safe nutritious foods for improved health.