Past, present and future perspectives


Hunger is the most extreme manifestation of the multidimensional phenomenon of poverty, and the eradication of hunger is instrumental to the eradication of other dimensions of poverty. Persistent widespread hunger impedes progress in other aspects of poverty reduction, and weakens the foundation for broad-based economic growth. Hunger also represents an extreme instance of market failure, because the people who are most in need of food are the least able to express this need in terms of effective demand (FAO 2001).

The FAO defines 'food security' as a state of affairs where all people at all times have access to safe and nutritious food which enables them to maintain a healthy and active life. Food security, therefore, implies the provision of safe, nutritious, and quantitatively and qualitatively adequate food, as well as access to it by all people (NFSD 1996). Food security has three dimensions:

Households seeking to preserve food security levels may resort to a number of coping strategies to gain access to food. These include: maintaining normal income-generating patterns; adaptation by means of innovative use of available resources or some Agriculture, of which 85-90 per cent is rain-fed in sub-Saharan Africa, accounts for 35 per cent of the region's gross national product (GNP), 40 per cent of exports and 70 per cent of employment (World Bank 2000). Year-to-year swings in GDP can be as high as 15-20 per cent, largely as a result of the effects of fluctuations in rainfall on agricultural production (World Bank undated). With the greatest part of African agriculture being rain-fed crop farming, food insecurity is largely caused by variability of rainfall (Khroda 1996). Moreover, about one-third of the region has a mean annual rainfall of less than 700 mm, which is too little to sustainably support rain-fed crop production.

Agricultural production varies from one sub-region to the other and is projected, due to the impact of climate change, to significantly reduce production in the tropics and sub-tropics, areas where food insecurity and hunger are already a problem (IPCC 1998). Box 3.14 describes the situation in the Lake Chad basin, where the adverse climatic factor of drought, coupled with unsustainable human activities, have contributed to a reduction in the volume of water in the lake and its biodiversity.

Box 3.14 Consequences of environmental degradation of the Lake Chad basin
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Satellite photographs showing the disappearing Lake Chad in Africa

Goddard Space Flight Centre, 2001

Over the years, the effects of drought and unsustainable human activities have continued to degrade the Lake Chad basin in general and the lake itself in particular, in terms of water availability and biodiversity. Water in the lake and its surrounding water systems is decreasing at an alarming rate. This persisting degradation of the entire ecosystem is compromising the performance of agriculture, fishery and livestock, which totally depend on the water and biological resources. The net effect has been the vulnerability of the population in the zone which is occupied mainly by nationals of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The problem is expected to worsen in the coming years as population and irrigation demands continue to increase.

In 1960-63, the lake's surface area was 25 000 km2; today, it is only 1.350 km2. It has been calculated that 25 per cent of the decrease in surface area took place between 1966 and 1975, as a result of drought and excessive evaporation. The persisting low rainfall in the Lake Chad basin has affected its water systems regime. This persisting/chronic degradation of the run-off of the lake's river systems has been compared to 'disease of water' or 'hyper-draining' by some experts. The increase in agricultural water use and the loss of water due to drier climate are exacerbating the massive decrease of water in the lake. Groundwater is abundant, but is difficult to exploit.

The prolonged rainfall deficits and the generalized low levels of the river systems will gradually affect the stocks of groundwater in the region. A total of 11 million people live in the Lake Chad basin. The population is projected to reach 23-30 million in 2020, increasing informal settlements and causing acute water shortage. Demographic pressure, drought, bush fires, unsustainable farming activities and deforestation are exerting pressure on water and soil. The lake is shrinking, and fisheries are decreasing. The consequences of this situation have been drastic reductions in food production in the basin and increased vulnerability as a result of food insecurity.

Source: Summarized from Nami, B. (2002). Impacts of Environmental Change on Food Production in the Lake Chad Basin (unpublished)

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