Fixing farming is a complex challenge

SDG 2: zero hunger

Policies are at the core of eradicating hunger and many African countries are now aligning the SDGs with national development plans

Farmer tending cabbages in Angola. Photo: iStock.com

By Esther Ngumbi

Despite the progress made over the past few decades, a staggering 257 million Africans are hungry and food insecure. The majority of the hungry live in rural areas. Their livelihoods and daily food consumption depend on agriculture, which is, in turn, dependent on natural resources – including groundwater and the soil. A changing climate, worsening environmental conditions, conflict and economic turbulence are further exacerbating the situation.To attain Sustainable Development Goal 2 (zero hunger) by 2030, African countries will need to take full ownership of the SDG approach. This implies a change in mindset, as argued in a 2014 report by the Ugandan Academy of Sciences reviewing the African experience of involvement in efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the SDGs and ran from 2000 to 2015. “Historically, Africans have rarely led the development process,” the report says. It points to policies of import substitution, industrialisation policies in the 1960s and structured adjustment programmes in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly, the MDGs were not aligned to “an agriculture-driven structural transformation that African leaders agreed to in the Maputo Declaration of 2003”, the report argued.

It was for this reason that African countries sought, and were successful in achieving, more substantial influence over the formulation of the SDGs. The next step was to localise each SDG. This is already happening in several Africa countries. South Africa, for example, released a Sustainable Development Goals: Indicator Baseline report in 2017, mapping plans to align efforts at attaining the SDGs with the country’s National Development Plan. Similarly, Kenya’s 2017 Voluntary National Review mapped out plans regarding the SDGs in relation to the country’s Vision 2030, and resulted in an SDGs Road Map report, a document that is guiding the country in its efforts to meet SDG goals. Other countries that are compiling similar national reviews are Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Niger, Sudan and Somalia. As regards SDG 2, many of the top performing 11 African countries – Morocco, Benin, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Rwanda, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia – have action plans outlining how they aim to achieve SDG 2 by 2030, according to the 2018 Africa SDG Index report.

Emerging from these early national reviews on the SDGs is a growing recognition that attaining SDG 2, in particular, will take on different trajectories in different African countries, because the causes of food and nutrition insecurity vary. The United Nations World Food Programme is working with several African countries to carry out Zero Hunger Strategic Reviews aimed at highlighting the challenges each country faces in efforts to eradicate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The strategy has included appointing respected high-level national figures as lead conveners of the national reports. Some 19 African countries have so far participated in these exercises, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Djibouti, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia and Togo. Ghana has performed relatively well in  measures aimed at achieving SDG 2. It was the first African country to meet its MDG in this respect, and garnered global praise for its efforts to reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition between 1990 and 2014.

Despite this, hunger and food insecurity persist, especially in the northern, upper east and upper west regions, as well as in many rural and peri-urban communities across the nation. Nearly 20% of children under five in Ghana are malnourished, according to the country’s 2017 Zero Hunger Review. Major causes include persistent low agricultural productivity, a poor resource base, contamination of harvested food by aflatoxins, and climate and weather-related factors such as drought. The proposed solutions include supplying and subsidising agricultural inputs, investing in water and irrigation technologies, expanding the country’s agricultural extension services, improving research capacity, and investing in modern food and grain storage equipment. In Uganda, weather-related factors such as drought, inadequate policies, regional geopolitics, structural causes, the low use of productivity enhancing technologies, gender inequalities, and a lack of early warning systems and disaster preparedness plans are cited in that country’s 2017 Zero Hunger Review as major factors affecting its ability to attain SDG 2.

Some of the solutions proposed include investment in early warning systems and addressing the structural causes of food and nutrition insecurity by undertaking land reforms, strengthening and promoting equitable land ownership rights and instituting functioning and regulated markets. In Rwanda, 17% of the population is moderately food insecure according to its 2018 Strategic Review of Food and Nutrition Security. The chief reasons include low agricultural productivity gains for smallholder farmers, fluctuating food prices, inadequate post-harvest storing equipment and a dysfunctional national food reserve. The proposed solutions are multi-sectoral, involving cooperation with a range of stakeholders and partners, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, NGOs, and universities. It must be noted that the country has made progress in integrating the SDGs generally in its various national strategies, including its Vision 2020 and National Strategy for Transformation.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with over 182 million people, completed its Zero Hunger Strategic Review in 2017 under the stewardship of its former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, working with an extensive consultative process that included the federal government, the AfDB, and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria. The report proposed a number of measures to achieve SDG 2, including increased public and private sector investment in modernising agriculture, implementing resilient agricultural practices, improved irrigation systems and improved farmer training. It also recommended that the country improve its capacity to mobilise financial resources, develop infrastructure and pay closer attention to the quality of policies and legislation. At the same time, many African countries face common challenges in their efforts to attain SDG 2. These include continent-wide low use of agricultural inputs, widespread soil degradation, post-harvest losses, inefficient research and agricultural extension services, inefficient markets, lack of agro-processing and value-adding capabilities, poor access to financial services and credit, and the emergence of transboundary pests.

Agriculture remains central to the economies of almost all African countries. It is the continent’s major employer, with close to 70% of Africa’s population directly dependent on farming, according to a 2017 report by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Despite progress that has been made, there remains significant need for improvement to achieve an inclusive agricultural transformation: (i) agricultural growth is still too slow and yield increase too marginal; (ii) food security is not yet sustainable in most African countries; (iii) emerging challenges such as climate change, pests and diseases threaten progress. This article has already outlined some aspects of the continent’s approach to dealing with the first two points. Tackling the challenges of the third point will require that African countries invest in climate smart agriculture and address their disaster response mechanisms more substantially. Moreover, two important areas of focus in attaining zero hunger in Africa are not included in these analyses: the potential of women and young people. Women make up around 50% of the population, but a larger proportion of the farming population. When women have equal access to opportunities as men, they increase yields on farms by between 20 and 30%, according to research by UN Women, and raise their agricultural output by between 2.5 and 4%, according to recent USAID research.

Globally, “[c]losing the gender gap could increase yields in developing countries by up to 4%. This could reduce the number of undernourished people by 130 million, or 15%,” according to a 2014 article in National Geographic by Kelsey Nowakowski. Given that Africa has about 564 million women farmers, the figures cited above would mean that empowering them would help to feed as many as 150 million additional people. Meanwhile, Africans under the age of 35 currently represent 65% of the population. Tech savvy, they could be at the forefront in helping to meet the SDG 2 targets.Climate change continues to, and will continue to, hamper the ability of African countries to achieve SDG 2. Without large scale adaptation to climate change, food shortages will become more common and food prices more volatile, with the potential to greatly exacerbate conflict over scarce resources, hunger, and malnutrition, and to fuel tidal waves of climate refugees. African governments must urgently address the needs of small-scale farmers and livestock keepers in their struggle to adapt to climate change. This is not simply a matter of setting up relief funds for natural disasters. It is about listening to people, understanding their most pressing needs, and putting in place programmes that protect their livelihoods and access to water.

Predictive data analysis could help in determining the likelihood of disaster events such as drought and floods. Some efforts are being made in this direction. In early 2015, for example, scientists with the Climate Hazards Group at the University of California-Santa Barbara in the US released the Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station (CHIRPS) dataset, which combines data from weather stations and satellites to provide a detailed record of global rainfall stretching back more than 30 years. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a provider of information relating to food insecurity established by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1985, was quickly able to use the data to identify African countries where huge rainfall deficits were expected. These countries included Ethiopia and Nigeria. The UN secretary-general then visited Ethiopia to draw global attention to the looming crisis. In addition, organisations such as Oxfam responded and began distributing food aid while advocating for more support. Implementing measures to attain SDG 2 will also depend on tight monitoring, evaluation and accountability protocols. In my view, countries ought to create annual scorecards that are made available to all citizens as part of improving the general transparency and accountability of measures aimed at achieving the SDGs.

Unfortunately, cases of mismanagement of funds aimed at attaining SGD 2 are common. An initiative in 2011 to help drought victims in Kenya, for example, resulted in very little relief after the funds – a whopping one billion Kenyan shillings – were misappropriated. African countries have had access to satellite data since earlier this year. “The African Union’s science and technology department recently inked a deal with the European Commission’s Copernicus programme, which generates 12 terabytes of earth observation data daily,” according to a May 2018 article in Quartz Africa. The Copernicus programme, the “third largest data provider globally”, is a portal that offers digital aerial photographs of sea topography, land temperature, vegetation changes and weather patterns. African scientists and institutions would also receive technical support from European research and space agencies, Quartz Africa said. This data can be used to identify declining soil health, the presence of invasive insect pests such as the fall army worm, as well as the visible effects of climate change. Good data is an increasingly important tool that can help to guide and support decisions aimed at avoiding food wastage and losses in agriculture through analyses of the way food is produced, moves along the food chain and is stored, according to an article by Sjaak Wolfert and other authors, “Big Data on Smart Farming” published in the journal Agricultural Systems in 2017.

At the core of attaining zero hunger are policies. Attaining SDG 2 will require political will and good governance. Smallholder farmers are dependent on their countries’ policy frameworks, including land tenure and property rights, safety nets, agricultural extension support and market development. It is encouraging to see that some African countries are taking steps in this regard. As we have seen, many are now aligning the SDGs with their national development plans. In countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda, the top leaderships are now involved in driving the SDGs. Other countries should follow suit. As Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Esther Ngumbi is an author, researcher, educator, mentor, speaker and champion for change around the issues of hunger, gender, education, youth activism, agriculture, sustainability and public service. She works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. A founder of organisations that empower farmers and youth in Kenya, she has served as a mentor to the Clinton Global University Initiative and President Obama’s Young Leaders programme.

Fixing farming is a complex challenge

SDG 2: zero hunger

Policies are at the core of eradicating hunger and many African countries are now aligning the SDGs with national development plans

Farmer tending cabbages in Angola. Photo: iStock.com

By Esther Ngumbi

Despite the progress made over the past few decades, a staggering 257 million Africans are hungry and food insecure. The majority of the hungry live in rural areas. Their livelihoods and daily food consumption depend on agriculture, which is, in turn, dependent on natural resources – including groundwater and the soil. A changing climate, worsening environmental conditions, conflict and economic turbulence are further exacerbating the situation.To attain Sustainable Development Goal 2 (zero hunger) by 2030, African countries will need to take full ownership of the SDG approach. This implies a change in mindset, as argued in a 2014 report by the Ugandan Academy of Sciences reviewing the African experience of involvement in efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which preceded the SDGs and ran from 2000 to 2015. “Historically, Africans have rarely led the development process,” the report says. It points to policies of import substitution, industrialisation policies in the 1960s and structured adjustment programmes in the 1970s and 1980s. Similarly, the MDGs were not aligned to “an agriculture-driven structural transformation that African leaders agreed to in the Maputo Declaration of 2003”, the report argued.

It was for this reason that African countries sought, and were successful in achieving, more substantial influence over the formulation of the SDGs. The next step was to localise each SDG. This is already happening in several Africa countries. South Africa, for example, released a Sustainable Development Goals: Indicator Baseline report in 2017, mapping plans to align efforts at attaining the SDGs with the country’s National Development Plan. Similarly, Kenya’s 2017 Voluntary National Review mapped out plans regarding the SDGs in relation to the country’s Vision 2030, and resulted in an SDGs Road Map report, a document that is guiding the country in its efforts to meet SDG goals. Other countries that are compiling similar national reviews are Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Niger, Sudan and Somalia. As regards SDG 2, many of the top performing 11 African countries – Morocco, Benin, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Rwanda, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia – have action plans outlining how they aim to achieve SDG 2 by 2030, according to the 2018 Africa SDG Index report.

Emerging from these early national reviews on the SDGs is a growing recognition that attaining SDG 2, in particular, will take on different trajectories in different African countries, because the causes of food and nutrition insecurity vary. The United Nations World Food Programme is working with several African countries to carry out Zero Hunger Strategic Reviews aimed at highlighting the challenges each country faces in efforts to eradicate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The strategy has included appointing respected high-level national figures as lead conveners of the national reports. Some 19 African countries have so far participated in these exercises, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Djibouti, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, São Tomé and Príncipe, Ghana, Senegal, Gambia and Togo. Ghana has performed relatively well in  measures aimed at achieving SDG 2. It was the first African country to meet its MDG in this respect, and garnered global praise for its efforts to reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition between 1990 and 2014.

Despite this, hunger and food insecurity persist, especially in the northern, upper east and upper west regions, as well as in many rural and peri-urban communities across the nation. Nearly 20% of children under five in Ghana are malnourished, according to the country’s 2017 Zero Hunger Review. Major causes include persistent low agricultural productivity, a poor resource base, contamination of harvested food by aflatoxins, and climate and weather-related factors such as drought. The proposed solutions include supplying and subsidising agricultural inputs, investing in water and irrigation technologies, expanding the country’s agricultural extension services, improving research capacity, and investing in modern food and grain storage equipment. In Uganda, weather-related factors such as drought, inadequate policies, regional geopolitics, structural causes, the low use of productivity enhancing technologies, gender inequalities, and a lack of early warning systems and disaster preparedness plans are cited in that country’s 2017 Zero Hunger Review as major factors affecting its ability to attain SDG 2.

Some of the solutions proposed include investment in early warning systems and addressing the structural causes of food and nutrition insecurity by undertaking land reforms, strengthening and promoting equitable land ownership rights and instituting functioning and regulated markets. In Rwanda, 17% of the population is moderately food insecure according to its 2018 Strategic Review of Food and Nutrition Security. The chief reasons include low agricultural productivity gains for smallholder farmers, fluctuating food prices, inadequate post-harvest storing equipment and a dysfunctional national food reserve. The proposed solutions are multi-sectoral, involving cooperation with a range of stakeholders and partners, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Assistance Plan (UNDAP), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, NGOs, and universities. It must be noted that the country has made progress in integrating the SDGs generally in its various national strategies, including its Vision 2020 and National Strategy for Transformation.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with over 182 million people, completed its Zero Hunger Strategic Review in 2017 under the stewardship of its former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, working with an extensive consultative process that included the federal government, the AfDB, and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria. The report proposed a number of measures to achieve SDG 2, including increased public and private sector investment in modernising agriculture, implementing resilient agricultural practices, improved irrigation systems and improved farmer training. It also recommended that the country improve its capacity to mobilise financial resources, develop infrastructure and pay closer attention to the quality of policies and legislation. At the same time, many African countries face common challenges in their efforts to attain SDG 2. These include continent-wide low use of agricultural inputs, widespread soil degradation, post-harvest losses, inefficient research and agricultural extension services, inefficient markets, lack of agro-processing and value-adding capabilities, poor access to financial services and credit, and the emergence of transboundary pests.

Agriculture remains central to the economies of almost all African countries. It is the continent’s major employer, with close to 70% of Africa’s population directly dependent on farming, according to a 2017 report by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Despite progress that has been made, there remains significant need for improvement to achieve an inclusive agricultural transformation: (i) agricultural growth is still too slow and yield increase too marginal; (ii) food security is not yet sustainable in most African countries; (iii) emerging challenges such as climate change, pests and diseases threaten progress. This article has already outlined some aspects of the continent’s approach to dealing with the first two points. Tackling the challenges of the third point will require that African countries invest in climate smart agriculture and address their disaster response mechanisms more substantially. Moreover, two important areas of focus in attaining zero hunger in Africa are not included in these analyses: the potential of women and young people. Women make up around 50% of the population, but a larger proportion of the farming population. When women have equal access to opportunities as men, they increase yields on farms by between 20 and 30%, according to research by UN Women, and raise their agricultural output by between 2.5 and 4%, according to recent USAID research.

Globally, “[c]losing the gender gap could increase yields in developing countries by up to 4%. This could reduce the number of undernourished people by 130 million, or 15%,” according to a 2014 article in National Geographic by Kelsey Nowakowski. Given that Africa has about 564 million women farmers, the figures cited above would mean that empowering them would help to feed as many as 150 million additional people. Meanwhile, Africans under the age of 35 currently represent 65% of the population. Tech savvy, they could be at the forefront in helping to meet the SDG 2 targets.Climate change continues to, and will continue to, hamper the ability of African countries to achieve SDG 2. Without large scale adaptation to climate change, food shortages will become more common and food prices more volatile, with the potential to greatly exacerbate conflict over scarce resources, hunger, and malnutrition, and to fuel tidal waves of climate refugees. African governments must urgently address the needs of small-scale farmers and livestock keepers in their struggle to adapt to climate change. This is not simply a matter of setting up relief funds for natural disasters. It is about listening to people, understanding their most pressing needs, and putting in place programmes that protect their livelihoods and access to water.

Predictive data analysis could help in determining the likelihood of disaster events such as drought and floods. Some efforts are being made in this direction. In early 2015, for example, scientists with the Climate Hazards Group at the University of California-Santa Barbara in the US released the Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station (CHIRPS) dataset, which combines data from weather stations and satellites to provide a detailed record of global rainfall stretching back more than 30 years. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a provider of information relating to food insecurity established by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1985, was quickly able to use the data to identify African countries where huge rainfall deficits were expected. These countries included Ethiopia and Nigeria. The UN secretary-general then visited Ethiopia to draw global attention to the looming crisis. In addition, organisations such as Oxfam responded and began distributing food aid while advocating for more support. Implementing measures to attain SDG 2 will also depend on tight monitoring, evaluation and accountability protocols. In my view, countries ought to create annual scorecards that are made available to all citizens as part of improving the general transparency and accountability of measures aimed at achieving the SDGs.

Unfortunately, cases of mismanagement of funds aimed at attaining SGD 2 are common. An initiative in 2011 to help drought victims in Kenya, for example, resulted in very little relief after the funds – a whopping one billion Kenyan shillings – were misappropriated. African countries have had access to satellite data since earlier this year. “The African Union’s science and technology department recently inked a deal with the European Commission’s Copernicus programme, which generates 12 terabytes of earth observation data daily,” according to a May 2018 article in Quartz Africa. The Copernicus programme, the “third largest data provider globally”, is a portal that offers digital aerial photographs of sea topography, land temperature, vegetation changes and weather patterns. African scientists and institutions would also receive technical support from European research and space agencies, Quartz Africa said. This data can be used to identify declining soil health, the presence of invasive insect pests such as the fall army worm, as well as the visible effects of climate change. Good data is an increasingly important tool that can help to guide and support decisions aimed at avoiding food wastage and losses in agriculture through analyses of the way food is produced, moves along the food chain and is stored, according to an article by Sjaak Wolfert and other authors, “Big Data on Smart Farming” published in the journal Agricultural Systems in 2017.

At the core of attaining zero hunger are policies. Attaining SDG 2 will require political will and good governance. Smallholder farmers are dependent on their countries’ policy frameworks, including land tenure and property rights, safety nets, agricultural extension support and market development. It is encouraging to see that some African countries are taking steps in this regard. As we have seen, many are now aligning the SDGs with their national development plans. In countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda, the top leaderships are now involved in driving the SDGs. Other countries should follow suit. As Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Esther Ngumbi is an author, researcher, educator, mentor, speaker and champion for change around the issues of hunger, gender, education, youth activism, agriculture, sustainability and public service. She works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. A founder of organisations that empower farmers and youth in Kenya, she has served as a mentor to the Clinton Global University Initiative and President Obama’s Young Leaders programme.

Making sure no one’s left behind

Data dive: SDG 1

Poverty eradication requires integrated strategies that address a complex range of variables

People remove debris from water hoses, which deliver clean water, after the rain at Kibera slum in Nairobi in April 2019. Photo: BRIAN OTIENO / AFP

By Sixolile Ngqwala

African countries are in the process of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda of 2030, a UN-driven development framework that is expected to be implemented by all UN member states. The SDGs focus on three aspects of sustainable development, namely, economic, social and environmental. The first SDG sets the goal of completely eradicating poverty. As one would expect, this is a challenge for many countries, especially those in Africa. This analysis reviews the available figures on SDG 1 (ending poverty in all its forms everywhere) and the progress African countries are making in achieving this goal. Monitoring progress being made with SDG 1 depends on a crucial indicator: the proportion of population living below the international poverty line, or less than $1.25 a day. The available data at country level presents a complex picture, with gaps that are considerable in quality, timeliness and level of disaggregation.

This analysis uses the latest available data, but countries for which there is a lack of data are excluded and are not the part of the analysis. For better data visualisation and analysis, the continent has been disaggregated into five regions (middle Africa, North Africa, southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa).

Middle Africa

In Angola, the number of people living below the international poverty line decreased from 32.3% to 30.1% from 2000 to 2008. In Cameroon, between 2001 to 2007, that indicator increased from 23% to 29%, with a significant decrease to 23,8% in 2014. In 2003, in the Central African Republic (CAR) 64.8% lived below the poverty line, while 66.3% did so in 2008, a moderate increase in the number of people living in poverty. Gabon has done a good job in eradicating poverty, with a decrease from 8% in 2005 to 3.4% in 2017. A ignificant decrease was also observed in Chad, from 62,9% in 2003 to 38,4% in 2011. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the highest rate of people living below the international poverty line in middle Africa, but achieved a significant decrease from 94% in 2004 to 77% in 2012. São Tomé and Príncipe is apparently struggling on this indicator, with an increase within a decade from 30% in 2000 to 32,3% 2010.

Eastern Africa

In the eastern part of the continent, Seychelles had the lowest rate of people living below the international poverty line, at 1,1% in 2013, though no figures are currently available to show a trend. Tanzania initially had the highest rate of people living below the international poverty line at 86% in 2000. However, the country saw a significant decrease in the proportion of people living in poverty, to 59,9% in 2007 and then to 49,1% in 2011. Ethiopia saw a decrease of 10% from 36% in 2004 to 26% in 2015. Kenya saw a decrease of 7% between 2005 and 2015. Malawi, by contrast, saw little progress with poverty eradication, with a small decline from 73% in 2004 to 71% 2010. It should be observed that the pace of poverty reduction in each country differs, among other things because countries use different resources and also different monitoring mechanisms. Comoros saw a significant increase in poverty, from 13,5% in 2004 to 18,1% in 2013. In Djibouti, in 2002, the poverty rate was 20,6%, while it was 79,3% for Mozambique, 64% for Uganda and 49% for Zambia.

Djibouti, however, has seen fluctuations in its poverty level, with a decrease to 18% between 2012 and 2013 and a five percentage point increase in 2013 to 23%. In Mozambique, in 2008 poverty was 68,7% and 62,9% in 2014, indicating a significant decline since 2002. In Uganda, positive results were achieved in 2005, 2009 and 2012, with the poverty level at 55%, 43% and 36% respectively; however there was a six percentage point increase in the poverty rate in 2016 at 42%. Zambia, by contrast, has seen consecutive increases in poverty levels: in 2004 they were at 57%, in 2006 at 61%, and in 2010 at 64%, although a considerable decrease to 58% was observed in 2015. No time series data were available for Zimbabwe and South Sudan. In 2011, Zimbabwe’s poverty level was 21%, while South Sudan’s was 43% in 2009.

North Africa

In the northern part of the African continent, substantial progress has been made towards reducing poverty. In 2011, Algeria had the lowest poverty rate of 0,5% in North Africa, and indeed in Africa as a whole. In 2000, the poverty rate in Morocco was 6,3%, while in Tunisia it was 5,3%. Between 2006 and 2013 Morocco saw an impressive reduction in poverty, from 3,1% in 2006 to 1% in 2013. A year earlier, between 2005 and 2006, Tunisia saw a 2,2 percentage point decrease from 5,3% to 3,1%, while in 2010 a further decrease was observed, from 3,1% to 2%. Egypt saw a significant decrease between 2004 and 2015: from 4,4% in 2004 to 3,9% in 2008, 2,3% in 2012 and to 1,3% in 2015. Sudan had the highest poverty rate when compared to other North African countries, at 15% in 2009. However, at the time of writing no time-series figures were available from which trends could be observed.

Southern Africa

The southern African countries appear to have made progress fighting poverty, with most demonstrating a consistent decrease in poverty rate levels over the past several decades, but the pace of poverty reduction differs in every country, depending on the resources used to fight poverty. In Botswana, the proportion of people living below the international poverty line decreased from 29,8% to 18,2% between 2002 and 2009. In Eswatini, the poverty rate decreased by 6,4% from 48,4% in 2000 to 42% in 2009. Lesotho had one of the highest rates of poverty in southern Africa, with a small decline from 61% in 2002 to 59% in 2010. Namibia has seen good results, reducing poverty from 31,5% in 2003 to 22,6% in 2009 and then to 13,4% in 2015. In South Africa, some 32,6% of the population lived below the international poverty line in 2000, with significant improvement in 2005 at 25%, in 2008 at 16,9% and again in 2010 at 16,5%. However, in 2014 an increase in the poverty level to 18,9% was observed.

West Africa

In West Africa, Niger had the highest rate of people living below the international poverty line at 75% in 2005, but this declined to 72% in 2007 and to 45% in 2014. In 2003, Benin’s poverty rate was 49%, though it saw an increase of four percentage points from 49% to 53% in 2011, and a decrease of three percentage points to 50% in 2015. Gambia saw good improvement over the years: in 2003 the poverty rate was 45%, while it was 25% in 2010, a considerable decrease followed by another to 10% in 2015. In Ghana, the poverty rate decreased from 25% in 2005 to 12% in 2012. In 2002, some 62% of the population was living below the international poverty line in Guinea, but between 2007 and 2012 there was a big drop in the poverty rate from 35% to 60%. Guinea-Bissau saw an increase of 13% in poverty between 2002 and 2010, from 54% to 67%. Liberia’s poverty rate declined by 30 percentage points between 2007 and 2014, from 69% to 39%. Congo saw a decrease in poverty between 2005 at 52% and 2011 at 37%.

In Nigeria, a constant rate of 53% was observed, with no changes between 2003 and 2009. Mauritania saw consecutive decreases in poverty, from 14% in 2004 to 11% in 2008 and 6% in 2014 – the lowest among West African countries. In Côte d’Ivoire, poverty increased by six percentage points from 23% in 2002 to 29% in 2008, but decreased from 29% in 2008 to 28% in 2015. The poverty rate in Togo was 56% in 2011, but this had declined to 49% by 2015. Senegal had a poverty rate of 49% in 2001, but saw a reduction to 38% in 2005; poverty held constant between 2005 and 2011 at 38%. In Sierra Leone, the rate of people living in poverty was 61% in 2003 but had decreased to 52% by 2011. In Burkina Faso, the poverty rate in 2003 was 57%, but the country saw a significant decrease from 55% in 2009 to 44% in 2014. Poverty eradication requires integrated strategies that address a complex range of variables, including economic growth, job creation, and education.

Historically, poverty rates in Africa have been high but on the whole these are diminishing, albeit at markedly different rates. However, large differences between the five African regions were observed. Over the past couple of decades, North African countries have performed best in reducing poverty. We noted gaps in the availability of data, and it is obvious that tracking SDG progress requires more and better quality data. This will give planning a base in evidence, which is likely to enhance the ability of African countries to achieve SDG objectives and ensure that “no one is left behind”.

Sixolile Ngqwala holds a Masters of Commerce (MCom) in economics from the University of Fort Hare, where he was involved with the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) in econometric research (econometric modelling, data coding, data mining, data analysis and interpretation). He has a BCom Hon in economics, and an undergraduate degree in Business Management and Industrial Psychology.

The path out of poverty

SDG 1: poverty

Africa will be home to 87% of the world’s poorest people by 2030, but that shocking figure hides the real progress made by some countries

Children at the Ankileisoke Primary School in the Amboasary-South district of southern Madagascar eat lunch offered by the World Food Programme in December 2018. Photo: RIJASOLO/AFP

By Richard Jurgens, Susan Russell and Charmain Naidoo

In 2004, the former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev told world leaders: “We are all agreed that poverty is the key problem of our times.” He called it “a political problem” since the world had enough resources to solve it – if decisions to solve it were taken. “But the problem has not been solved. It’s becoming more acute and political will is needed,” Gorbachev told the World Political Forum. In 2000, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched that year to run until 2015, challenged the world’s countries to face up to the need for conscious, focused developmental goals. The MDGs aimed to halve the number of people earning less than $1.25 a day; that is still the poverty measurement for the much more ambitious 17 SDGs the UN set in 2015 aimed at achieving a more equitable world by 2030. SDG 1 ambitiously pledges to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” by 2030, reducing “at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.”

SDG 1, sections 1.4 and 1.5, further outline the scope of what it hopes to achieve: “ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property…. build the resilience of the poor … and reduce their exposure to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks.” A World Bank poverty report published in September 2018 suggests that from a worldwide perspective at least, SDG 1 is within reach, stating that, “extreme poverty has rapidly declined. New poverty estimates by the Word Bank suggest that the number of extremely poor people – those who live on $1.90 a day or less – has fallen from 1.9 billion in 1990 to about 736 million in 2015.” Except in Africa, where 422 million Africans (more than 70% of the world’s poorest people) currently live below the global poverty line.

While projections indicate that figure will decline to 377 million by 2030, if current trends continue, the World Bank predicts that by that date nine out of 10 (87%) of the world’s extremely poor people will be living in sub-Saharan Africa. On the face of it, these are shocking statistics, but a Brookings Institute report, published in March this year, Poverty in Africa is falling – but not fast enough, written by Kristofer Hamel, Baldwin Tong and Martin Hofer, suggests a more nuanced picture. According to Hamel et al, World Data Lab projections reveal that in 2019 more Africans are escaping extreme poverty than are falling below the poverty line – for the first time since the start of the SDGs. While the number is small – at 367 people a day – the rate is projected to rise, resulting in a million fewer African people in extreme poverty by 2020, and rising to 45 million fewer by 2030. Current projections still have Africa as a continent falling far short of achieving SDG 1 by 2030, but a closer look at what is happening at a national level reveals that several African countries will have ended, or be close to ending, poverty by then.

The Brookings report points out that four African countries – Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Mauritius and Seychelles – already have poverty rates below 3%, with Mauritania and Gambia projected to join them by 2030. They also cite several countries that are close to achieving SDG 1 by 2030 if current trends continue, or will be very close to doing so. Ethiopia, for example, is projected to lift 22 million people out of poverty by 2030, reducing the current percentage of extremely poor people (24%) today to 3.9%. If Ethiopia can accelerate this process it will achieve SDG 1 by 2030. Even with demographic challenges, Ghana is projected to reduce its extremely poor population from 12.5% to 4.5% by 2030, Kenya from 20.9% to 4.3% by then, Côte d’Ivoire from 17.2% to 4.9% and Dijbouti from 14.2% to 4.6%. This means, they say, that if current trends remain the same, Ethiopia and Kenya will achieve SGD 1 in 2032; Ghana, Angola and Côte d’Ivoire in 2033; and Djibouti in 2034.

In Angola, poverty has been on the rise again since 2017, but the World Data Lab says this trend will reverse, with the extreme poverty rate falling again by 2021, dropping to 3.5% of the population by 2030. Hamel et al say that if the rate can be reversed sooner, Angola stands a good chance of achieving SDG 1 by 2030. The Brookings Institute report says that it is important to note that the continent has turned a corner, even if at this point it seems almost impossible that Africa will end extreme poverty by 2030. That said, it is important to look at the reasons for Africa’s uneven scorecard in working towards achieving SDG 1, both as a continent and at the national and regional level. As the Brookings report points out, the most significant challenges to reducing poverty in Africa are found in just two countries, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Taken together, the 150 million citizens of these two counties represent more than a quarter of total poverty in Africa today – and are expected to represent almost half of Africa’s poor by 2030,” Hamel et al write.

In this context we might ask: what are the specifically African problems in addressing poverty? Following decades of dependency theory, which cast African politicians and their societies as perennial victims, it is becoming necessary to emphasise the agency of African actors. With this in mind, we can ask, first, whether African polities, at least in countries such as the DRC and Nigeria, simply lack the political will to address poverty. Moreover, African societies obviously act in a global environment. So, secondly, will the current high growth rates seen in some African countries help to end the continent’s endemic poverty? And thirdly, what sort of government policies would be necessary to begin the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment in Africa? Answering these questions will help to better understand how likely it is that Africa will meet the goals set by SDG 1 for 2030. Interestingly, these questions, and variants, have been around for a while – and relevant answers.

For example, in 1999, Tony Killick of the Overseas Development Institute (ODA) asked that first, critical question: why is poverty not a political issue in most of Africa? Even then, he was able to point out that the view that African growth rates would themselves “solve” poverty was over-optimistic. This was because internal factors to African societies contributed to the problem of poverty. In particular, he argued, inequalities within African societies reduced the contribution of growth to alleviating poverty. The nature of African poverty also posed a serious problem, he suggested: many of the continent’s poor – among them the disabled, the aged, orphans, refugees, widows, abandoned wives, as well as the landless, the unemployed, subsistence farmers, pastoralists and some of the urban poor – would simply not be able to benefit from economic growth.

Similarly, Howard White of the ODA addressed the problem of the policies that would contribute to alleviating poverty in Africa by suggesting that the role of governments should be to reduce the barriers to participating in economic growth experienced by so many sectors of African societies. Investment in health services, in education and in infrastructure would be crucial – but “governmental interventions [had] not always been successful”. As examples, he pointed to labour markets and land reform. In the first case, policies that restricted informal economic activities were common across the continent. As regards land reform, in many cases, “traditionally based systems of land access provide more benefit to the poor than market-based ones”. According to a 2018 World Bank report, slower growth rates, war, weak institutions, famine, natural disasters and a prevalence of authoritarian regimes were among the main factors behind Africa’s higher poverty levels.

While the report stopped short of blaming Africa’s shocking statistics on a lack of political will, it did say that there was “a lack of success in channelling growth into poverty reduction”. Andrew Dabalen, a practice manager for southern and West Africa with the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice, says it’s difficult to measure political will. “Sometimes, even if the will exists, it is hard to achieve results. Political will depends on leadership, citizen engagement, and societal goals,” he told Africa in Fact. “One way to encourage political will is to encourage citizens in Africa to engage in the political process and to hold their leaders accountable to reducing poverty in their countries.” A shift in poverty from South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa is already in motion as extreme poverty levels – and the number of poor people – decline in South Asia. Meanwhile, as already mentioned, the World Bank report predicts that as much as 87% of the poor will live in sub-Saharan Africa in 2030.

These mixed figures reflect a tidal change in poverty reduction. The fact that extreme poverty is at the lowest in recorded history is due in part to the massive social changes resulting from technological innovation, which is giving new capabilities of communications and information exchange to large swathes of the world population, the report says. And, as compared to even a decade ago, billions of people are connecting to the financial system. Researchers Zorobabel Bicaba, Zuzana Brixiova and Mthuli Ncube, in a 2015 article published on the International Growth Centre website, Eliminating Extreme Poverty in Africa: The Role of Policies and Global Governance, said although extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa was unlikely to be eradicated by 2030, they believed it could be reduced to “very low levels”.  Serious commitment to eliminating extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa would require a three-pronged approach, they said: first, structural transformation, which required macroeconomic policies, infrastructure investment, and “inclusive growth prioritising productive employment”.

Second, “cautious integration, inviting trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to support regional growth”. And third, “improved global governance, which created space for meaningful representation of African perspectives”. “The lessons from China suggest that to reduce poverty African countries should focus on raising agricultural productivity, which in turn facilitates structural transformation, as manufacturing absorbs workers from rural areas,” said Bicaba et al. “Equally important, Brazil has shown that governments can help reduce poverty through well-designed redistributive programmes and social protection, so far missing in most of Africa.” It seems fair to say that behind Africa’s shocking extreme poverty figures projected for 2030, both the gains – and grim realities – at national level across the continent indicate real difficulty in treating Africa as an amorphous mass in assessing whether it will, or won’t, achieve SDG 1 by 2030.

It is worth repeating that just two countries – Nigeria and the DRC – will account for almost half of Africa’s extreme poverty by the end of the next decade. Both are resource-rich countries hobbled by political instability and corruption. As Bicaba and his colleagues point out, “Africa’s countries need to find their own path, depending on their circumstances and priorities.”

Susan Russell has more than 30 years of experience in the media industry, a career that has included stints as a hard-news reporter for the Daily News in Durban, legal reporter for Business Day in Johannesburg , and as a sub editor for the Sunday Times. Subsequent promotions included various senior editorial positions, including editor of the Sunday Times Magazine and launch editor of the Sunday Times Travel supplement.
Charmain Naidoo has worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for 30 years, and ran the London and New York bureaus for South Africa’s Sunday Times in the 1990s. Covering Africa at the United Nations in New York meant working closely with African leaders and diplomats. The exposure made her passionate about the process of democracy building, conflict resolution, development and the need for good governance on the African continent. Most recently, she served on the Commonwealth Observer Mission overseeing Malawi’s 2019 elections.
Richard Jurgens is editor of Africa in Fact. A former exile with the ANC in Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Europe, he has worked as an editor, journalist and translator in mainstream media and the corporate world in Africa and Europe. He was a co-founder of a multi-award-winning alternative city paper, Amsterdam Weekly, and is a published author of autobiography, fiction and poetry, as well as a musician.

Utopian fantasy or attainable reality?

SDGs and global growth

Changing political and economic dynamics are set to make achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 a great deal more difficult

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (L) with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at the UN in New York on July 27, 2017 when Japan pledged one billion dollars to support the UN’s development agenda. Photo: ANGELA WEISS / AFP

By Ronak Gopaldas

On the 25 September 2015, 193 countries adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN, which would come into force on 1 January, 2016. The goals, which seek to eradicate poverty, hunger and inequality, to achieve universal access to health care, clean water and sanitation, education and decent work, and fundamentally make the world a better place for all who inhabit it, were set to be achieved by 2030, representing an ambitious 15-year time frame for their implementation. Nearly three and a half years since its adoption, it is worth reflecting on how much has been achieved, and whether changing global political and economic dynamics still provide a conducive backdrop for the realisation of these ambitions.

The world is a different place now than it was in 2015. At the time, world growth was a robust 3.5%. Chinese and American growth rates hovered at 7% and 3% respectively, while GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa had expanded by 5% just the year before. Moreover, world growth was expected to continue accelerating over the coming decade. It was a time to be optimistic and to set ambitious goals. Today, however, the outlook for global growth is less sanguine. Achieving the SDGs is contingent on a foundation of robust economic growth, but growth looks increasingly fragile. Chinese growth has been decelerating for some time, and concerns of an outright recession in the US and the increasingly fractured European Union (EU) are mounting. Moreover, the past three years have seen the rise of greater unilateralism, growing trade friction, escalating geopolitical tensions and increasing levels of disillusionment at the status quo. The seeming rise of populist politics, on both the right and the left, is both a product of this disillusionment and an obstacle in the way of overcoming it. Where then does this leave Africa in its quest to radically improve the lives of the continent’s population?

In short, in a far more precarious position. For one thing, Africa relies heavily on commodity based trade. Concerns over slowing economic growth have seen most commodity prices plateau at best, as demand for the raw commodities that fuel Chinese infrastructure development begins to wane. This presents increasing risk for the fiscal positions of many African states, which partly rely on commodity trade revenue to finance many of their sustainable development goal projects.Fiscal constraints have been further hampered by several unforeseen natural disasters across Africa, among them droughts and cyclones. These appear to be mainly the product of climate change, and, indeed, climate action is the 13th of the 17 development goals. Slowing growth in developed markets leaves less headroom for donor countries to increase aid and funding to Africa’s emerging markets, which also depend heavily on donor funding for the implementation of their development goal initiatives.

That is not to say that the SDGs are impractical or unattainable, but rather that they are aspirational. Indeed, in former years many sceptics said the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 were unrealistic. Yet the proportion of people living in extreme poverty globally fell from nearly 50% in 1990 to 14% in 2015. In the same 25-year period, the proportion of child deaths halved. This is progress by any measure. However, the progress was uneven, with greater strides made in Asia. Africa’s lack of progress was papered over by headline figures. Currently, more than half of the people living in extreme poverty – those who subsist on less than $1.90 a day – live in Africa. This is an increase of nine million people since 1990. The World Bank estimates that if this trend persists, 90% of the world’s population living in extreme poverty will be in Africa. A 2018 report by the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa acknowledges that the continent “faces substantial challenges in achieving the SDGs”.

According to the centre’s dashboard, the biggest challenges are in the areas of health, infrastructure, peace, justice and strong institutions. The report found that more than 80% of the African countries surveyed in the report received a poor mark (red on the dashboard) on all of these metrics. It noted that there had been limited, if any progress on 13 of the 15 goals that are tracked. African leaders are acutely aware of the challenges the continent faces. In 2013, the African Union (AU) embraced its own Agenda 2063, which involves a much longer-term and perhaps more realistic timeframe for achieving development around the continent. Agenda 2063 seeks to achieve goals closely aligned to the resolution on the SDGs that the UN adopted two years later. Agenda 2063 seeks to realise a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth, an integrated and politically united continent defined by good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Achieving these aspirations, if realised, will lay the foundation for greater strides in achieving the 17 SDGs, but they will require resolute political will, extensive structural reform and an unwavering adherence to, and respect for, democratic rule. In what is becoming an increasingly fractured world, perhaps the most important thing in progressing the sustainable development goal agenda would be to start with the final SDG, goal 17, which deals with partnerships. As global growth slows, African countries will have to rely more on each other, rather than on intercontinental trade and international donor funding. And while the dream of realising all the sustainable development goals by 2030 grows more distant, a great deal can be achieved by improving the lives of Africans through African knowledge-sharing partnerships in areas such as innovation, science and technology, infrastructure development, agriculture best practice, education and youth empowerment.

These are low hanging fruit that are relatively easy to implement, and which are far less bound by fiscal and funding constraints. Another quick win would be the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which would significantly reduce the cost of doing business on the continent, but also improve the ease of doing business. It would free up much needed capital among Africa’s private sector, which should be the engine of continental growth. Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which have received very little focus in the past, are going to be ever more critical in unleashing growth drivers in Africa. With governments facing reduced fiscal headroom, the private sector is an important ally in the quest to achieving the sustainable development goals. In this arena, the sole function of African governments and policymakers must be to develop an environment conducive to investment, economic and policy stability, and growing business confidence.

In short, governments must be the foundation on which the private sector can build and do the heavy lifting. Policy certainty and stability, the reduction of red tape, and an investor-friendly environment would be the catalyst for a virtuous growth cycle, ultimately raising tax revenue and making the realisation of the SDGs more attainable. Without a united public and private sector drive, there is unlikely to be meaningful economic and societal growth.

Ronak Gopaldas is a director at Signal Risk, an exclusively African risk advisory firm. He was previously the head of country risk at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) for a number of years, where he managed a team who provided the firm with in-depth analysis of economic, political, security and operational dynamics across sub-Saharan Africa. He holds a BCom degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) and a BCom (Hons) from the University of Cape Town (UCT). He also has an MSc in finance (economic policy) through the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.