Sub-Saharan Africa cannot sustain its present economic resurgence unless it eliminates the hunger that affects nearly a quarter of its people, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) argues in the newly released Africa Human Development Report: Towards a Food Secure Future.

“Impressive GDP growth rates in Africa have not translated into the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. Inclusive growth, policies and people-centered approaches to food security are needed,” said Anne-Isabelle Degryse-Blateau, UNDP Seoul Policy Centre Director.

Arguing that action focused on agriculture alone will not end food insecurity either, the Report calls for new approaches covering multiple sectors: from rural infrastructure to health services, to new forms of social protection and empowering local communities. Ensuring that the poor and vulnerable have greater voice through strengthened local government and civil society groups is also needed to ensure food security for all. The quickening pace of change and new economic vitality on the continent make this an opportune time for action and the knowledge, technology and resources for closing the food security deficit are already available today the report says.

“Korea is boosting its overseas development assistance and has many policy lessons and climate resilient technologies it can share in the context of tackling food security in Africa. It can play an important role in supporting countries tackle these challenges” said Ms Blateau.

“This report makes sense. Tying politics, food security, tackling agricultural improvements and giving people choices, especially women, together is key to boosting development in a holistic way in sub-Saharan Africa” said, Ms. Park Sook Hyun, Deputy Director of the Korea International Cooperation Agency’s Evaluation Office.

“To help address these challenges, KOICA will launch a number of new rural development projects in Africa in 2012 and 2013, including income generating projects in northern Uganda with the WFP, water and sanitation projects in rural Democratic Republic of Congo and a range of projects in Ghana, Rwanda and Ethiopia” Ms. Park said.

KOICA’s support to the agricultural sector in Africa has risen from 0.4 million USD in 2001 to 14 million in 2010. More than 12 African countries, including Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and The Democratic Republic of Congo have benefited from irrigation projects, rural development projects, rice processing projects, training opportunities and other initiatives.

KOICA’s mid-term strategy for the Agricultural and Fishery sector from 2011-2015 emphasizes working more closely with UN and other development agencies on tackling food security issues for the rural poor in Africa and around the world.

Hunger among plenty

With more than one in four of its 856 million people undernourished, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food-insecure region. At the moment, more than 15 million people are at risk in the Sahel alone – across the semi-arid belt from Senegal to Chad; and an equal number in the Horn of Africa remain vulnerable after last year’s food crisis in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Hunger and extended periods of malnutrition not only devastate families and communities in the short term, but leave a legacy with future generations which impairs livelihoods and undermines human development.

Food security, as defined by the 1996 world leaders’ Food Summit, means that people can consistently access sufficient and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active and healthy life at a price they can afford.

 Policies to build food security

While acknowledging that there are no quick fixes, the report argues that food security can be achieved through immediate action in four critical areas; increasing agricultural productivity; ending decades of bias against agriculture and women; encouraging the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Africa’s growing youth population and placing a greater emphasis on nutrition while expanding access to health services, education, sanitation, and clean water.

Building resilience: Getting food from field to table in Sub-Saharan Africa is fraught with risk.

Countries should take measures to lower people’s and communities’ vulnerability to natural disasters and civil conflict, seasonal or volatile changes in food prices and climate change. The Report recommends social protection programmes such as crop insurance, employment guarantee schemes, and cash transfers – all of which can shield people from these risks and boost incomes.

Empowerment and social justice: Achieving food security in sub-Saharan Africa will remain out of reach so long as the rural poor, and especially women, do not have more control over their own lives.

Ensuring access to land, markets and information is an important step to empowerment. Bridging the gender divide is particularly vital: giving women access to better education, more direct control over resources and a more decisive voice in decision making can dramatically increase food security.

Access must be coupled with more participation in civic debate. This in turn, must be linked with greater accountability by governments and other organizations.

For too long the face of Africa has been one of dehumanizing hunger. The time for change is long overdue, the Report argues