When it comes to policymaking, sound information is key. This is especially true for agriculture and food policies in Africa south of the Sahara, where hunger levels remain the highest in the world (2016 Global Hunger Index) and where agriculture accounts for a significant portion of GDP (17.1 percent in 2014; World Bank).
While reliable, timely data is crucial to fight hunger and malnutrition and to drive overall development in the region, however, significant research and data gaps exist, in terms of both the availability of information and the effective, transparent use of that information by policymakers. Improving food security information (FSI) is therefore a development goal that goes hand-in-hand with eradicating hunger.
One of the challenges of effectively gathering and using FSI is the fact that a multitude of factors impact food security: agriculture, infrastructure, market access and function, education and health, climate change, and population and demographic trends, to name just a few. Policymakers and researchers need data regarding all of these factors to make informed decisions and enact successful development policies. In addition, food security conditions vary from country to country and even from region to region within a single country; thus, policies (and the data driving them) need to be context-specific.
Both governments and development partners have stepped up efforts to increase and improve food security information in recent years. For example, the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in 2012 in order to coordinate the development of country and regional food security information systems among multiple stakeholders.
The need for FSI to set national development priorities was also the focus of a recent policy dialogue held by IFPRI in Burkina Faso, in collaboration with GRAD Consulting Group. During this dialogue, experts presented several tools that can be used to improve the collection and use of food and nutrition security-related data, including IFPRI’s typology of micro-regions and a tool to help make decisions regarding location-specific fertilizer and seed use. Specific roadblocks to FSI collection and use in Burkina Faso were also identified; these included lack of sufficient funding, lack of cooperation and information-sharing among different government ministries and levels of government, and the tendency of different levels of government to establish their own systems, thus duplicating efforts and spending money ineffectively. All of these challenges lead to difficulties in setting national development priorities and in monitoring progress on those priorities.
The Burkina Faso meeting resulted in several key recommendations. These ranged from harmonizing data collection among different actors, especially district- and regional-level government ministries, and ensuring coherence between relevant sectoral policies and the national food and nutrition policy to establishing a strong monitoring and evaluation system and creating a dashboard to monitor food security indicators at the individual, household, and economy levels.
To continue the discussion regarding FSI at both the country and the regional level, the Africa south of the Sahara Food Security Portal will hold a virtual dialogue on the topic on Tuesday, November 29 beginning at 08:00 UTC (09:00 Accra time). Specific discussion questions will include the following questions and you can click on each to participate or link to the full forum here.
- What types of FSI mechanisms/tools are already in use in the region to track market access, prices, and nutrition at a household level?
- What do countries need to enable them to effectively adopt and use FSI tools to set national priorities in terms of food access and nutrition?
- What gaps in data exist regarding food access and nutrition in the region?
- How would an effective institutional landscape for the collection and utilization of FSI for food access and nutrition look?
An expert panel will respond to participants’ questions and comments and provide insights into the region’s data and information needs. Participating experts will include:
- Mohamed Ag Bendech, FAO, Senior Nutrition officer (Ghana)
- Maurice Lorka N'Guessan, African Union, Leading the CAADP Biennial Review Process
- Sheryl Hendriks, University of Pretoria, SA, Director of Insitute for Food, Nutrition, and Wellbeing
- Professor Joyce Kinabo, Sokoine University, Tanzania
- Simon Kimenju, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development
- Abdoulaye Ka, National Coordinator, Senegal Cellule de Lutte contre la Malnutrition