Bean Industry in AfricaThe Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) has researched and developed 650 new bean varieties that could combat food insecurity in Africa. PABRA’s development is an effort to retain bean crops as climate change has threatened the crop. The alliance won the $100,000 African Food Prize for its commitment to improving food security through the bean industry in Africa.

What is PABRA?

The Pan-African Bean Research Alliance is based in Nairobi, Kenya. The alliance works with members in 30 countries to provide better beans and economic growth within those countries. They believe that their research on beans can: 

  • Reduce food insecurity in Africa
  • Provide stable income for farmers
  • Improve the health of Africans
  • Improve soil fertility

Food Insecurity in Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa faces an alarming food crisis, with around 146 million people food insecure. The causes of food insecurity in Africa include extreme weather and armed conflict. Food insecurity has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which reduced essential food imports to African countries.

Beans are a popular food item across Africa, with approximately 300 million people eating beans. Researchers Ulrike Rippke and Julian Ramirez-Villegas 2016 studied when and where bean farming will become unviable in Africa. They found that if action is not taken, 60% of the land in sub-Saharan Africa will be unviable for bean farming by the end of the 21st century.

Better And Diverse Bean Varieties

PABRA’s efforts to reduce food insecurity in Africa have led to the creation of 650 new bean varieties. These new bean varieties are more resilient and better acclimated to the extreme wet and dry seasons that Sub-Saharan Africa is facing. PABRA’s beans use less water than other beans.

The newly developed beans also double productivity. The director of PABRA says that in Ethiopia, there is a shorter harvest time for PABRA’s beans. Therefore, you can harvest the beans and sell them before other crops. Additionally, the beans provide diversity and a more comprehensive range of crops that can be grown by farmers. Through diversity and high resilience, farms can better withstand the shock in the cropping system.

Economic Benefits Of Better Bean Crops

Bean crops are a valuable income source for at least 37 million farmers across the African continent. PABRA reports that there has been a 30% income increase in more than 5 million households due to their beans. From 2003 to 2021, with PABRA’s improved bean varieties, farmers in Zimbabwe saw $500–$800 income gains per hectare under rain conditions and $1,000 per hectare for irrigated plots. For further poverty reduction, PABRA found that households using their beans are 6% more likely to be food secure. The likelihood of being poor also decreased by 6%, according to PABRA’s 2022 report. 

Concluding Remarks

The Pan-African Bean Research Alliance’s efforts towards bean development are one of the many ongoing projects to reduce food insecurity in Africa. The diverse bean varieties provide new sources of income and food for consumption to approximately 30 countries and millions of people.

– Komalpreet Kaur
Photo: Wikimedia

At its core, the global food sovereignty movement imagines a world in which everyone is fed locally-produced food that is nutritious, culturally appropriate and sustainably grown. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is an organization that specifically advocates for African food sovereignty. Its main activities include movement-building, advocating for agroecology and campaigning for food policies that reflect its goals. The pan-African organization acts as a network-builder across the continent and plays a vital role in the broader food sovereignty movement.

The Importance of Food Sovereignty

The modern-day food sovereignty movement took shape in 1993 when a diverse group of agrarian peasants’ movement members formed La Vía Campesina. In 2023, La Vía Campesina describes itself as “first and foremost the voice of the people who work the land and feed the world.” The organization comprises 182 organizations across 81 countries, representing hundreds of millions of pastoralists, fishers, indigenous peoples, migrant workers and others, all of whom fall under the organization’s chosen umbrella term, “peasants.”

Though achieving food security is a basic goal of the movement, organizations like La Vía Campesina and AFSA take a notably holistic, nuanced approach. The movement examines aspects of broader food systems, including affordability, nutritional value and cultural appropriateness of foods, sustainability of production, respect for the rights of food producers and solidarity amongst regional and global peasant communities. These considerations are not merely philosophical and have consequences for the everyday lives of people at all points of the food system. A 2023 report by The Brookings Institute, for example, notes that African resilience in the face of external shocks (including climatic, economic and social crises) requires regional food sovereignty.

Most broadly, food sovereignty in Africa amounts to more stable food systems and decreased dependence upon aid and imports. Given its focus on sustainability, the primary objectives of the food sovereignty movement include improving soil health and biodiversity. This ecological well-being in turn ensures better availability and affordability of produce. For those hoping to move beyond subsistence farming or in search of work in the agricultural sector, African food sovereignty also offers increased opportunities for wealth generation.

What Does The AFSA Do?

African food sovereignty, in the view of AFSA, is best achieved through implementing policies and practices rooted in agroecology. According to the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO), “Agroecology is a holistic and integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems.” In addition to addressing broader ecological and socio-economic systems, this farming and food system model also emphasizes local knowledge.

AFSA touts the approach as both a climate change solution and a sure way to achieve food sovereignty. The Alliance deems agroecology “a people-centered system of sustainable agriculture, combining indigenous knowledge with cutting edge science, making the best use of nature to create healthy communities….” AFSA brings together a diverse group of food system actors in Africa to advocate for policies and practices in line with agroecology. The Alliance also provides powerful case studies of how the transition to agroecology made a deep and lasting impact in the regions. Case studies like “Agroecological Training on Biofertilizers Improves Women’s Livelihoods in Togo” and “Changing the Fortunes of Farmers and Families in Murang’a County, Kenya” provide hopeful narratives that exemplify the social, environmental and economic benefits of the model.

How Does The AFSA Work?

AFSA approaches its movement-building and advocacy work with a network-based methodology. Local member associations representing roughly 200 million individuals are connected with national networks in 50 countries, which are then connected via 40 regional member networks. The Alliance’s core members include regional farmers’ organizations such as Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum, regional Indigenous peoples organizations such as The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee and regional NGO networks such as Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association. By connecting individual and large-scale members of the food and agriculture community in Africa, AFSA organizes and orients its members toward a version of Africa where all its people and ecosystems can thrive.

Ways to Support African Food Sovereignty

Though food sovereignty is ultimately about regional self-sufficiency, there are many ways people and organizations outside of Africa can support the movement. For example, Brookings Institute recommends that development partners “promote efforts to maximize regional food trade, by reducing disincentives and inefficiencies in global markets—such as dumping, subsidies and tariff structures that would disadvantage or discourage domestic production in African countries.” In addition, international actors providing aid to the region can prioritize food sovereignty as much as food security by ensuring that members of organizations fighting for African food sovereignty like La Vía Campesina and AFSA have a seat at the global table.

Looking Ahead

AFSA continues to play a crucial role in the quest for a world where food is locally-produced, nutritious and sustainable. The organization’s advocacy for agroecology, movement-building and policy campaigning promotes African food sovereignty and contributes to stable food systems and decreased dependence on aid. By supporting regional food trade and ensuring the inclusion of organizations like AFSA at the global level, international actors can help advance the goals of the food sovereignty movement in Africa.

Hannah Carrigan

Photo: Wikimedia

hunger in Pakistan
According to the 2022 Global Hunger Index, the country of Pakistan ranks 99 out of 121 countries. With hunger in Pakistan’s score at 26.1 out of 50 on the index, the issue in the country is ranked as “serious.” The problem itself is due to a combination of factors. One is the devastating 2022 summer floods. A second is the current economic crises that are severely affecting the Pakistani government’s ability to manage food scarcity.

Hunger and Food Insecurity Across the Population

Almost 17% of Pakistan’s population is undernourished. Children are among the most greatly affected. Almost 40% of children under five suffer from “stunting” or have low height for their age due to undernourishment. “Child wasting” affects seven percent of children under five. This means that they are below the average weight for their age because of severe undernourishment. Finally, child mortality (children who die before age five) is a startling 6.5%.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), a survey from 2018 showed that 36.9% of the population faces food insecurity. Women are especially at risk as among the most vulnerable and economically challenged portion of the population. Moreover, due to cultural and social taboos, many women find it difficult to access humanitarian services and aid. In addition, the World Food Programme found a direct link between girls’ level of education and all forms of undernutrition.

Flooding and Hunger

The devastating floods of the summer of 2022 further destabilized Pakistan’s rising inflation and poor economic situation. Pakistani government officials stated that the floods destroyed almost 80% of crops. This staggering number has major ramifications for a country where an average household spends around 50% of its income on food. Also, the State Bank of Pakistan proclaimed that foreign reserves fell to $4.3 billion. That is barely enough to buy three weeks of imports. Finally, even with pledges of $10 billion from the international community to help Pakistan’s recovery, supply chain shortages in everything from medical supplies to soybeans keep prices high and the people suffering.

Wheat is a staple food in the diet of an average Pakistani. The prices of wheat have skyrocketed, partly because of a decrease in wheat from Ukraine due to the war there. Wheat and flour are so scarce in some parts of Pakistan that armed police have to guard distribution trucks. At one point, desperation led people to stampede the trucks and the stampede led to the death of a person. Furthermore, food prices in the country rose almost 36% in December 2022, compared to 31% in November.

Support from Humanitarian Organizations

To combat these difficult challenges, organizations that fight hunger such as Action Against Hunger and Islamic Relief are comprehensively tackling hunger in Pakistan. In the province of Sindh, Action Against Hunger promotes kitchen gardening and supports farmers to grow crops that are resistant to changing weather patterns. The organization also provides communities with knowledge and information on new techniques to grow vegetables. Finally, it provides households with young children with goats and poultry. Action Against Hunger aid reached more than 2 million people last year.

Islamic Relief supported more than 1 million people in the aftermath of the floods. It provided communities with 40,000 liters of daily clean drinking water, 123 water tanks, 11,667 food packs and 7476 winter kits.

The challenges are very much present, but organizations are working alongside the government to implement new initiatives to eliminate hunger in Pakistan.

– Saad Ul Haque
Photo: Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic, climate catastrophes and Russia’s war in Ukraine are placing significant strain on food security in sub-Saharan Africa. To combat this, the U.S. announced in August 2022 its intention to provide food security assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. The goal of this widescale scheme of action is to reduce hunger and the increasing rates of malnutrition to tackle food insecurity in the region.

Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa

U.S. officials state that the crisis in Ukraine most harshly affects sub-Saharan Africa. With food prices rising at unprecedented levels, households in the region face severe impacts given that “food consumes 40% of household budgets,” an August 2022 VOA News article said.

COVID-19 partially contributed to the food insecurity of more than 190 million people globally, but the Russian war in Ukraine has only inflated this figure, with estimates heading toward 230 million people. Africa faces grave impacts due to the conflict in Ukraine as Ukraine is a key “global grain and vegetable oil producer” while both Russia and Ukraine supply more than 40% of wheat in Africa.

Several key U.S. officials visited the region in August 2022 to get a more vivid picture of the state of food security and deduce the required food security assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. One particular official is Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. envoy to the U.N. and a member of President Biden’s Cabinet, who took a trip to Uganda, Ghana and Cape Verde in August 2022 to look into food insecurity.

A Brief History of US Aid in the region

This large-scale scheme to provide food security assistance in sub-Saharan Africa in many ways adds to a series of historic U.S. aid in the region. These forms of aid vary from targeting health to trade and investment. However, specific to food security, President Obama’s Feed the Future program launched in 2010 to foster “self-sufficiency in agricultural production” across the globe, including Africa.

This included providing humanitarian aid in Ethiopia where the U.S. now maintains a notable presence of humanitarian provision for the citizens there. To further this program that President Obama started, the U.S. “is expanding sustainable African food production” via the Feed the Future program to eight more African nations.

The Current US Plans Under Biden

At the G7 summit in June 2022, President Biden and other G7 leaders announced their plan to invest more than $4.5 billion to tackle global food insecurity, and $2.76 billion, half of this sum, will come from the U.S. government. Of this amount, USAID plans to use $2 billion to provide “emergency food security assistance over the next three months,” of which almost $1 billion will go directly to Africa.

While $760 million will supply “near-term food assistance” to prevent an exacerbation of impoverishment and food insecurity in vulnerable nations facing the impacts of the high costs of “food, fertilizer and fuel” that the crisis in Ukraine brought on.

Within this $760 million budget, $336.5 million will go toward a bilateral program for several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. A major goal of the U.S. in this initiative is to support countries in the region to boost their resilience to shocks like food price volatility and supply chain issues.

Additionally, through the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, the U.S. will provide $670 million worth of food aid to address unprecedented levels of hunger across the globe.

All in all, the primary goal is to strengthen production and foster resilience within agriculture and food systems on a more global scale.

Assistance to Ghana

Within the foreign policy, the U.S. also strives to consider the food crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. When the U.S. placed sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, the sanctions did not apply to food and fertilizer exports to support countries, many in sub-Saharan Africa, that are dependent on these exports.

However, to address this dependency, the U.S. strongly advised Ghana and other African countries to invest in domestic agriculture to foster self-sufficiency, reduce global shocks and potentially look toward the possibility of “feeding global markets.” In support, the U.S. has provided $2.5 million for Ghana to fuel more efficient production and to import fertilizer for domestic farmers.

The Theme of Cooperation

An important aspect of this newly introduced scheme is the theme of cooperation. The U.S. hopes to support Africa transform its food systems following its own plans for food security. As such, this is a partnership, and not a U.S. attempt to impose its own vision for Africa.

In a recent speech in August 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated that Biden’s sub-Saharan Africa strategy “focuses on what we will do with African nations and peoples, not for them.” Blinken also described Africa as the future — by 2050 every one in four individuals in the world will be of African descent.

The U.S.’s plan to provide food security assistance in sub-Saharan Africa seeks to respond to factors such as Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate issues and COVID-19. While the U.S. will provide humanitarian assistance, the U.S. also hopes to collaborate with Africans in the region to provide more long-term, sustainable solutions to food insecurity.

Claudia Efemini
Photo: Flickr