Reliable, timely data is crucial to fight hunger and malnutrition and to drive overall development in Africa south of the Sahara; 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. (For further discussion of existing research gaps, read about our side event at the recent 2016 ReSAKSS Conference). Improving food security information (FSI) is therefore a development goal that goes hand-in-hand with eradicating hunger.
On November 29-30, the Africa south of the Sahara Food Security Portal held a virtual dialogue to discuss how FSI can be improved to address the region’s food access and nutrition needs. The event brought together a panel of experts to lead the discussion and respond to participants’ comments and questions; the experts included 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; and Abdoulaye Ka, National Coordinator, Senegal Cellule de Lutte contre la Malnutrition.
The first dialogue question focused on existing FSI mechanisms and tools in use in the region to track market access, food prices, and nutrition status at the household level. A number of general indicators and data sources were identified as important, including household budget surveys to track consumption and spending patterns, anthropometric data to assess nutrition status, and weather data to track rainfall patterns. Experts then provided examples of country-specific FSI tools in use throughout the region that work under various mandates to collect a range of food security and nutrition indicators at the national, local, and household levels.
However, despite existing efforts, much important data remains hard to find. Simon Kimenju highlighted nationally-representative food consumption data at the household level as one key missing piece; while integrated household budget surveys cover expenditures on food items, they do not provide information regarding the quantities of food purchased and/or consumed. Joyce Kinabo and several other participants discussed the need for data on agricultural commodities other than staple cereal crops. In many countries in Africa south of the Sahara, cash crops (such as cocoa, coffee, and oilseeds) play an important role in farmers’ incomes and in export tax revenues; however, it is difficult to find price and production data for these important crops. Data covering food loss and waste along agricultural value chains is also needed to gain a clearer picture of food production and availability in the region.
In terms of addressing nutrition, data regarding micronutrient deficiencies and seasonal availability of nutritionally important crops were highlighted as important gaps to be filled. Sheryl Hendricks mentioned the need to better analyze the nutrition data collected through Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS); she also highlighted the need for increased collection and analysis of sub-regional data.
In order to improve their data collection and use of FSI, governments throughout the region will need to overcome several roadblocks, including insufficient funding and a lack of coordination and information-sharing among food security stakeholders. Mohamed Ag Bendech drew attention to the changing global agri-food system, stating that country-level strategies need to focus on the entire food supply chain rather than on “single point interventions of the past.” To expand this lens, both the public and the private sector must work together and have clear roles; governments will need to establish proper enabling environments and regulatory frameworks that help private sector actors effectively and inclusively modernize food value chains in the region.
Sheryl Hendricks emphasized that the first step in improving the use of FSI in the region is the establishment of an agreed-upon, standardized set of indicators to track and report on progress toward national and regional food security goals. She listed the SDGs and the CAADP Results Framework as good starting points for countries to agree upon indicators. However, countries throughout the region still need to make progress on implementing the CAADP Framework, particularly the monitoring and evaluating of progress. Mohamed Ag Bendech and Abdoulaye Ka both mentioned the importance of increasing countries’ technical capacity to track and report upon FSI indicators and goals; the FAO’s Community of Practice groups were highlighted as one channel through which to do so.
The final dialogue question asked how an effective institutional landscape for the collection and utilization of FSI would look. Experts and participants agreed that such a landscape needs space to include a wide range of stakeholders (both public and private) and to take a multi-sectoral approach. Sheryl Hendricks emphasized the importance of utilizing and improving local research institutions, while Mohamed Ag Bendech suggested the use of knowledge-sharing platforms provided through a centralized website, such as the African Union Commission’s current effort to create an African Union Centre of Best Practices for Food Security. Such platforms will require increased coordination and cooperation among stakeholders, however, as well as a clearer identification of accurate, reliable, and relevant data. It was suggested that overall coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of FSI efforts remain the priority of high-level government ministries such as the Prime Minister’s Office or Ministries of Finance or Planning; funding for coordination of FSI work should stem from national budgets.
By: Sara Gustafson