Helen Clark: Remarks at the launch of the UNDP Africa Human Development Report 2012
Speech by Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP on the occasion of the launch of the UNDP Africa Human Development Report 2012
“Towards a Food Secure Future”
Nairobi, Kenya, 11.00 AM, 15 May 2012
*Check against delivery*
It is a pleasure to be in Nairobi to launch UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report, “Towards a Food Secure Future”. It is the first of what I hope will be many Human Development Reports focusing specifically on Africa.
This report advocates people-centered and comprehensive approaches to
food security, and is both timely and important. The G8 will discuss
food security at its meeting in the United States next week. An
action-oriented outcome of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on
Sustainable Development in Brazil next month would also help the world
make great strides in reducing hunger and malnutrition. Whether it will
or not currently lies in the balance; hence I have a message for the
leaders of the world’s nations later in my speech today.
The prospect of food security for Africa’s peoples, rural and urban
dwellers alike, is threatened by increasingly extreme weather, ecosystem
degradation, and volatile global food prices. Levels of food insecurity
and malnutrition are already high in many parts of the continent. The
impressive economic growth which much of the continent has been
recording must now be accompanied by decisive action to improve food
security and nutrition. Growth divorced from advances in human
development does little for people; and without advances in human
development, countries cannot meet their full potential either.
Human Development and Food Security
The first global Human Development Report launched by UNDP in 1990
defined human development as being about enlarging people’s freedoms,
choices, and capabilities. When human development advances, people live
longer and healthier lives, are better educated, have more income, and
can live in greater dignity.
The Report being released today reminds us that food security is
basic to human development, and that food insecurity can trap
generations of people in underdevelopment.
Malnutrition and hunger contribute to poor health, reduced worker
productivity, and less ability to learn. The effects on the physical
development and cognitive skills of children are long-lasting.
Low human development, including a lack of education, poor health,
and limited access to information and resources, threatens the food
security of individual households and communities.
But the converse is also true. By improving food security and
nutrition, countries can accelerate progress on the Millennium
Development Goals, advance sustainable human development, and build
resilience to the climatic and other disasters which affect food
security in the region.
Understanding Food Security Crises in Africa
Last year, countries in the Horn of Africa experienced their worst
food security crisis in more than twenty years. Somalia suffered the
first famine of the 21st century. In the Sahel, just two years after the
last severe food security and nutrition crisis, a combination of
drought, poverty, high grain prices, environmental degradation, and, in
some countries, instability and conflict is requiring another large
scale crisis response.
Latest estimates suggest that more than fifteen million people across
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, and
Senegal are directly affected, with the crisis yet to peak.
In February, Valerie Amos, the UN’s Emergency and Humanitarian
Co-ordinator, and I visited Niger to see conditions for ourselves, and
to raise international awareness of the urgent need for support. We
stressed the importance of integrated humanitarian and development
responses which both brought relief and helped build greater resilience
for the future.
Back in 1981, Amartya Sen, Nobel-prize winning economist and an
architect of the human development paradigm, challenged the notion that
famine is caused simply by a decline in the food supply. He argued that
famine is a consequence of poorly functioning institutions, the lack of
rule of law, and limited access to markets or affordable food. He also
noted that where governments are responsive and inclusive, famines are
The Human Development Report we are launching today argues that while drought and crop failure often trigger food crises in Africa, the actual causes of food insecurity go much deeper. They include:
- Low agricultural productivity, which curtails the availability of food, leading to trade imbalances and a reliance on imports and humanitarian aid;
- Persistent, wide-spread, and extreme poverty which makes getting enough food unaffordable and markets inaccessible for poor people. Almost half the population in sub-Saharan Africa continues to live on under US$ 1.25 per day; and
- Little policy focus on the importance of nutrition, which enables wide-spread and chronic malnutrition to persist.
The impact on food systems of erratic weather patterns, environmental
degradation, food price volatility, and conflict further aggravates
these contributing factors to food insecurity.
As well, in delving deeper into its underlying causes, the Report
finds that there has been a longer term urban bias in policy, leading to
the relative neglect of rural areas and of the needs of subsistence
farmers and the landless poor. That has held back the level of
investment required in infrastructure, technology, and agricultural
inputs - which was so essential to the success of the “Green
Revolutions” in Asia and Latin America.
This report also identifies bias against women as a critical factor
in maintaining food insecurity, both because it limits the ability of
women to provide food security for themselves and their families, and
because it limits the success of measures which were intended to build
While the picture of food insecurity painted by the Report is complex, it does argue that Africa can build a food secure future.
Sub-Saharan Africa has ample agricultural land and water, and a
generally favourable climate for growing food. In the past decade, many
of its countries have recorded high economic growth rates, and the
region is expected to continue to grow at more than five per cent this
year. Since 2000, nine of the ten countries making the largest gains in
human development have been in sub-Saharan Africa.
Building a Food-Secure Future: how to proceed
- Boosting agricultural productivity
The Report highlights the need for effective policy in four key areas: The first lies in measures to boost the agricultural productivity of smallholder farmers.
The Report notes that most of the increases in sub-Saharan Africa’s
agricultural output over the last fifty years came from expanding the
area in cultivation, rather than from higher yields.
Worldwide, 1.5 billion people are involved in smallholder agriculture
– many of whom are in Africa. Global demand for food is projected to
rise by seventy per cent by 2050.
Tapping the potential of smallholder farmers to increase production
through raised productivity and to access new and growing markets can
help expand food security, while also improving the livelihoods and
well-being of the farmers and their families.
To achieve this, small farmers will need better access to
agricultural inputs, such as appropriate seeds and fertilizers,
extension services, new technologies and innovation, along with better
access to markets and credit.
Basic water infrastructure which enables food to be grown and animals to be sustained even in severe drought conditions is also critical. Valerie Amos and I witnessed the stark difference in Niger between the resilience of the community we visited which had water infrastructure to extreme drought conditions and of the community we visited which lacked it.
- Prioritizing nutrition
Calorie sufficiency is not enough – the quality of the food we eat
matters for our development. Nutrition is often a neglected area of
public policy – improving it needs to take centre stage.
Achieving better nutrition requires much more than advocacy about what people should eat. The education of girls is widely regarded as one of the most important factors in improving nutrition for the next generation. As well, nutrition outreach and education initiatives need to reach remote areas, and may benefit from being linked to other services people are using.
- Building resilience for people and their communities
The Report argues that explicit efforts to build resilience are
needed to break cycles of vulnerability and avoid irreversible setbacks
to development from adverse events. Policies to build food security
should address the sources of the problem, including environmental
degradation and climate change, while also expanding the opportunities
and social protection available to the poor.
Adequate social protection systems are affordable, and they are
essential for building resilience. The International Labour Organisation
estimates the costs of an adequate social protection floor lie between
one and two per cent of GDP.
Ghana, for example, provides a small cash grant to poor households through its Livelihood Empowerment against Poverty programme. Ethiopia
provides cash and food in return for work on environmental
conservation, water source protection, and terracing, through its
Productive Safety Net Programme. One study of participants in the
programme found that they were “more likely to be food secure, borrow
for productive purposes, use agricultural technologies, and operate
their own non-farm business.”
Here in Kenya,insurance has been made more accessible through
innovative uses of mobile phone technology, and is helping smallholder
farmers protect themselves against the risk of drought or excessive
rain. This is one of many areas of considerable innovation in
information and communications technologies to be found in Kenya today,
with broad applications for human development.
Building resilience is also about repairing degraded environments.
That can be as basic as replanting trees as windbreaks to protect crops,
retain moisture in soils, and draw nutrients to topsoil.
The Government of Niger, in partnership with the development community, has supported locally managed reforestation initiatives. To date, these have reforested four per cent of the country’s land area. This area was able to increase its cereal yields by 100 kilograms per hectare in 2009, improving livelihoods and food security for some 2.5 million people.
- Empowering women and other marginalized groups
Where women have more education, control over resources, and a voice
in decision-making, the availability, access, and nutritional level of
food consumed is likely to improve.
Women make up almost half the agricultural labour force in developing
countries. Yet they have less control over land and poorer access to
agricultural inputs and finance than men have. As a result, yields from
women farmers can be lower than those of men by a quarter, and in some
countries by even more.
Evidence suggests that in situations where women receive equal
inputs, that gap will close completely. This makes women’s empowerment
critical for lifting small-holder productivity in Africa. Full legal
rights for women to own, rent, and inherit property are critical.
At the weekend, I was delighted to visit Maasai women who have banded
together, supported by a local NGO, to farm leased land which has had a
small water bore and irrigation system installed. Previously their
economic positions as heads of their households were precarious. Now
their farming has not only boosted their incomes, but also produces
surpluses for local markets. There are many such initiatives in Africa,
and there could be many more.
UNDP works in a number of countries on strengthening women’s legal
rights, including by supporting community land titling initiatives with
special measures to protect the land interests of vulnerable populations
Taking the recommendations forward
Lifting productivity, improving nutrition, building resilience, and
empowering women requires co-ordinated action across disciplines and
sectors. Governments – central and local, civil society, development
partners, and the private sector need to work together. Humanitarian and
development actors too must pool their efforts so that they reinforce
each other and go beyond relief to build long term resilience.
Although not an agriculture- or food-specific agency, UNDP supports
governments to establish cross-cutting partnerships and integrated
policy approaches for tackling complex issues. One way we have been
doing this around food security is through the MDG Acceleration
Framework. It helps countries identify bottlenecks to MDG progress, and
to prioritize the policies, reforms, and actions needed to overcome
them. It is a problem-solving approach which brings stakeholders
together across sectors. It draws from existing plans and evidence, and
it generates new types of partnerships.
In Togo, for example, the focus was on removing the blockages in the
way of small farmers – in particular women – growing more and better
food. Using the methodology offered by the MDG Acceleration Framework,
Togo prioritized concrete actions – including increasing farmers’
ability to purchase fertilizers and seeds, and better equip agricultural
extension officers to target women farmers.
In Niger, a comprehensive action plan to achieve the MDG One targets
for reducing hunger and poor nutrition is being implemented,
encompassing diverse measures from issuing land titles to improving
access to agricultural advisory services.
UNDP’s Human Development Reports aim to stimulate debate and action
on critical human development issues. No issue is more fundamental to
human well-being than food security – yet the right to food is elusive
for many in Africa today.
High-level political commitment and co-ordinated public policy and
initiatives will play a critical role in overcoming food insecurity.
That is important at both the national and global levels.
As I noted at the beginning of my speech, the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development takes place in Brazil next month.
The world is in much worse shape in many ways than it was at the time
of the Earth Summit in Rio twenty years ago. Inequality is rising in
many countries, and planetary boundaries are under great pressure.
Future food security is heavily related to how effectively we tackle
Yet barely weeks away from Rio+20, the negotiations on its outcome
are making very slow progress. This is the time for everyone who cares
about human development and the state of our planet to speak up and
demand of world leaders that they act to ensure the future
sustainability of life on our planet.
In the worst case scenario presented in last year’s global Human
Development Report, the toxic combination of rising inequality
exacerbated by growing damage to ecosystems would slow human development
progress to a crawl, and even see it regress in vulnerable countries.
That would dash the hopes and aspirations of many people on this
continent and elsewhere who have so much to gain from rising living
standards and more opportunities. It is also a recipe for a fractious
and troubled world.
The message needs to go to the negotiators of Rio’s outcome document
that they must rise above their differences, and unite around a shared
vision for our common future. Our world’s peoples and ecosystems deserve
no less. Carrying on as we are dooms us: changing course secures our
common future. How could we justify to future generations a failure to
act at Rio to secure their future ?
In achieving greater food security and nutrition for all, and in
ensuring that Rio+20 succeeds, the leadership of Africa is critical. So
too is the leadership and support of development partners. We all need
to lift our level of ambition to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, and
to keep human development moving forward within the boundaries of
The challenges are formidable and the investments required are huge.
But the opportunities are great too. Countries on this continent which
have prioritized the reduction of poverty and hunger have results to
share which can inspire others to act.
If we take a comprehensive approach to food security and address its underlying causes, we can bring an end to chronic hunger and malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa once and for all. This first Africa Human Development Report challenges us to do just that. I hope that not only will it be widely read, but also that its recommendations will be acted on.