Collaboration and networking for a just society are at the heart of the contemporary mission of the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network – Africa (JENA).

One of the areas JENA engages is ‘climate justice and food sovereignty ’ but is working in partnership with other like-minded institutions, both in and outside the Church, to not only support development work but also support advocacy on food justice and food sovereignty and on other issues related to these themes.

This is because improved food sovereignty could enhance gender equality, prevent conflict, and build and sustain peace among vulnerable food-poor households and communities in Africa.

JENA works to promote food sovereignty, which is different from mere food security. Food security does not distinguish where food comes from, or the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. National food security targets can often be met by sourcing food produced under environmentally destructive and exploitative conditions, and supported by subsidies and policies that destroy local food producers but benefit agribusiness corporations. Food sovereignty emphasizes ecologically appropriate production, distribution and consumption, social-economic justice, and local food systems as ways to tackle hunger and poverty and guarantee sustainable food security for all peoples. It advocates trade and investment that serve the collective aspirations of society. It promotes community control of productive resources; agrarian reform and tenure security for small-scale producers; agroecology; biodiversity; local knowledge; the rights of peasants, women, indigenous peoples, and workers; social protection and climate justice.

The issue (food insecurity, hunger, and poverty): The unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic make it not only a health concern but also a major economic crisis in Africa as it has affected global food value chains including production due to disrupted markets and loss in incomes.

This has plunged many into food insecurity (measured at household level), hunger (measured at an individual level), and poverty. A number of countries in Africa are currently classified under serious or alarming hunger prevalence levels based on the recently launched 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI) by Severity. The index is based on four indicators namely: “undernourishment (share of the population with insufficient caloric intake), child stunting (share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), child wasting (share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition), and child mortality (mortality rate of children under age five, partly reflecting the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments). In a related recent study by the African Economic Consortium, it is estimated that the proportion of people below the poverty line in Kenya may have increased by 13 percentage points from 28.9 percent in 2019 (pre-COVID) to 41.9 percent as of September 2020. The situation is not any different for other countries in Africa.COVID-19 said to have worsened the situation in 2020.

Why is this an issue: Food insecurity and hunger remain major barriers to development in many countries in Africa. This is because agriculture food value chains are not only a major source of employment but also ensure nutritious foods reach the ultimate consumers at the individual and household level hence the direct effect of COVID-19 effects on food security, hunger, and poverty. In addition, the agriculture sector through its value and supply chains is one of the main contributors of GDP in Africa, for example, its GDP contribution as of 2019 in select Sub-Saharan Africa countries is Ethiopia (33.5%), Kenya (34.1%), Central African Republic (32.4%), Burundi (28.9%), Mozambique (26.0%), Rwanda (23.5%), Uganda (23.1%), Malawi (25.5%), Madagascar (23.3%). As such, food security and hunger are a humanitarian and a human right concern with conspicuous attention in global and regional development policies such as the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 on Zero Hunger and Africa Agenda 2063 Goal (1) on A High Standard of Living, Quality of Life and Well Being for All Citizens. Both policies firmly prioritize the ending of hunger, poverty, and inequality. This comes at a time when the 2020 AU summit, which attracted institutions such as FAO, discussed concerns on peace and food security in Africa where it was noted that some of the most conflict-prone regions such as Congo, Somalia, and South Sudan are also among the most food insecure.

Aggravating the issue: Exacerbating the food security and hunger concerns in Africa are environmental and ecological concerns. These include the recent locust invasion where an average swarm is estimated to destroy as much food in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people per day; with the devastating impact on an estimated invasion in Kenya (39,036 ha), Tanzania (450 ha), Somalia (53,665 ha), Sudan (7,122 ha), Eritrea (2,116 ha), and Egypt (755 ha) clearly evident. Recurrent waves of drought, floods, and frost are also a concern. For example, in 2020 based on FAO estimates of food losses associated with floods in some select countries in Africa, the affected people were: Somalia 2.1 million, Ethiopia 1.1 million, Sudan 0.875 million, South Sudan 0.856 million, Kenya 0.85 million; Burundi 0.85 million, Congo 0.7 million and Djibouti 0.175 people. The concerns also remain at the heart and support of other SDGs such as 10 on Reduced Inequalities within and among countries, 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production, and 13 on Climate Action to combat climate change and its impacts while promoting No Poverty in 1 and Peace Justice and Strong institutions in 16.

Call for action: The GHI scores and existing statistics on food sovereignty and poverty not only gives us a comparison across countries but is also a call for attention and additional efforts by governments and development partners to join hands with local communities to transform the post–COVID-19 Africa food sovereignty and hunger status. As such, multi-stakeholder collaboration and acting fast to alleviate the situation will ultimately create a more just and peaceful Africa. Partners in the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network – Africa involved in work around food sovereignty are discussing and lobbying for buy-in into what interventions to undertake, who to collaborate with including mobilization of resources, and how to roll it out including the possibility of out-scaling existing interventions to reach more people and faster.

The JENA partners have begun conversations on food sovereignty in Africa. The first webinar discussion brought together African Jesuit affiliated institutions to create internal buy-in into the proposals while generating more insights. This will be followed by a second webinar inviting different like-minded institutions in the food sovereignty and hunger space to discuss among other issues the existing interventions, avenues for collaboration and financing, and geopolitics that may affect the roll-out. Proposed interventions will include immediate short-term solutions like food relief while exploring more long-term solutions like promoting and supporting ecological agriculture using Sustainable Consumption and Production Practices (SCPs). In line with the second Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences, this will champion for more inclusion of vulnerable segments of the population such as women, youth, refugees, and persons living in marginalized areas to diversify their sources of livelihoods by venturing into more income-oriented activities in agri-value chains.

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