Bad roads, poor storage and weather destroy a fourth of food crops grown on a continent plagued by food insecurity
A new day has just started and I am standing at one of the largest farm markets north of the Cameroon capital Yaounde. Trucks that have journeyed all night are off-loading their cargo of tomatoes, carrots, green beans, bananas, and an assortment of vegetables and grains.
Some of the trucks are still loaded. I am told they will soon begin a daylong journey to the border, where traders from Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are waiting.
As I look around, it’s hard to believe that many people across the continent will go to bed on an empty stomach tonight. But the hard truth is that most of the world’s 800 million hungry people are in Africa. Why? The continent is throwing away $4 billion worth of grain annually due to what experts call massive post-harvest losses.
The hungriest continent
In spite of progress in food production, Africa is still the hungriest continent in the world. It accounts for the vast majority of nearly a billion people afflicted by food shortage globally. In the last 10 years, separate food crises have affected about 20 million people in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa.
Campaigners for better policies say food shortage is becoming more frequent and affecting more people. One of them is Mamadou Biteye, the managing director of the regional office of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Recently, I met him in Ethiopia, a country that became the rancorous symbol of Africa’s food problems in the 70s. Between 1983 and 1985, a treacherous famine killed about 400,000 people in the north of that country.
Biteye had been invited to Ethiopia by the African Media Initiative to rouse media interest in the continent’s food crisis. He told me there are many reasons why Africa cannot feed itself: In the 70s, draughts literally burned out the harvest in the Sahel.