African scholars cite myriad causes of food insecurity

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original
The disappearance of breeding grounds, reduced habitat diversity, and increased temperature levels leading to higher rates of microbes are some of the ramifications of global warming, as anthropogenic activities continue to increase greenhouse gases, according to Jane Nagayi Kalule Yawe, a lecturer at Gulu University in Uganda. "In nature's brutal irony, the gases that make life on Earth possible now threaten our very existence," said Yawe, one of several Watson International Scholars of the Environment who spoke on a recent panel on "Climate Change and Food Security."

Lake Victoria is an admonitory example of how the emission of nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide lead inevitably to an increased occurrence of floods and droughts, she said. Since the 1960s, Lake Victoria, one of the African Great Lakes and the largest tropical lake worldwide, has witnessed a continuous drop in its water level.

The current water level has dropped by two meters endangering the livelihood of those who rely on agriculture and fishing as their main source of income, said Yawe. "Fish has become inaccessible and unaffordable ... it used to be the cheapest source of animal protein," said Yawe.

She put forth several suggestions to tackle this issue, among which were strengthening the existing management institutions to promote the sustainable use of lakes, empowering communities to "own" Lake Victoria, and introducing projects of agriculture development.

Other land use issues were raised by Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji, a Watson Scholar who is chief executive officer of the Rural Africa Water Development Project in Nigeria. Ezeji maintained that the drastically growing number of workers leaving rural Africa for its cities is complicating the challenge of meeting basic food demands. In 2008, 39.7 percent of Africa was urban. Experts expect this number to reach 50 percent in 2025 and, strikingly, 80 percent in 2050. In West Africa, the current food supply of 2,430 calories per day per person is below the optimum level of 2,700.

Additional challenges to food security include the degradation of soil by poor land management practices, tensions between farmers and other water users, the over-abstraction of groundwater, and saltwater intrusion in coastal regions, according to Ezeji.

Kawsu Jammeh, a third Watson Scholar and project coordinator of the DBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas in the Gambia, presented yet a different set of issues generating from climate change: crop damage leading to lower yields, erosion of beaches and coral bleaching with additional consequences for fisheries, and "extreme events" such as increased rates of hurricanes.

But even with the available resources in Africa, there seems to be a deficiency in the way in which such resources are managed.

According to Oluseun Sunday Olubode, a Watson Scholar and lecturer at Nigeria's Caleb University, only 10 percent of potential farmland in Africa is used by agriculture. Water scarcity is a major cause of hunger as "fresh water is unevenly distributed." Also, 65 percent of African agricultural land is degraded due to erosion or chemical and physical damage.

Climate change leads to increased pest pressure and decreased host tolerance, Olubode added. He proposed undertaking crop improvement and production research and empowering the indigenous population to initiate its own individual local action as to resist and change the imbalanced resource distribution.

The panel was hosted by the African Student Association.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Samura Atallah '11