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Food Security: The African Perspective

Article by: Maliya Mzyece Sililo |

Food Security: The African Perspective

Author:Maliya Mzyece Sililo (Zambia)
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The 1996 World Food Summit defined food security as, "...when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." In Africa, food security is closely tied to sustainable agriculture.

A report on food security in Zambia, PRFSP (Promotion of Rural Food Security Programme) defines sustainable agriculture as environmentally friendly, economically viable and socially just. Modern farming methods may be economically viable for the commercial farmer but they are far from environmentally friendly and socially just. For the small-scale farmer, they are not even economically viable. In Zambia as is the case in most African countries, 83% of the population live in poverty. 90% of the farmers are subsistence farmers who occasionally produce marketable surpluses. It is this last group that this paper is concentrating on.

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Most of the farmers use inorganic fertilisers such as urea and D compound. These chemicals do not enhance the soil and lead to the need for constant use of fertilisers. It is not sustainable for the small-scale farmer because fertilisers are very expensive. Most of them depend on government subsidies to buy them. This is not sustainable. There is need to change to sustainable farming practices in order to ensure food security. This involves the use of organic fertilisers from animal waste, compost and crop rotation. Traditionally, in Zambia, beans were grown together with maize. This diversification of plants was good for the soil. Beans, like any other legumes, are a nitrogen fixing plant and maize is a nitrogen hungry plant.

Indigenous seeds must be encouraged rather than genetically modified seeds which are expensive and some of which cannot be stored away for replanting the following season. Indigenous seeds, on the other hand, can be replanted several times and still produce the same quality and quantity of produce making it sustainable for small-scale farmers.

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The use of weed killers seems a very good idea at face value but is too expensive to be sustainable for the small-scale farmer. Secondly, weedkillers are not environmentally friendly as they do not discriminate about which weeds to kill. Certain edible weak weeds are killed by the weed killer which further threatens food security. Wild mushrooms, which used to be plentiful during the rainy season, are also disappearing from our forests as the weedkiller negatively affects the surrounding land.

Chemicals used to control pests have been bad for the environment. They have also not spared wildlife and birds that eat insects have been killed in the process of chemically based pest control.

Grasshoppers, flying ants and mopani worms are a rich source of protein but in most communities they are becoming scarce and very expensive if and when found. There are organic ways of controlling pests. Certain plants repel pests and some plants attract pests. The plants that attract pests can be grown next to the vegetables so that the pests are attracted to them and leave the vegetables alone. Farmers can also be encouraged to make organic insecticides which are cheap and environmentally friendly. More research needs to be carried out in order to learn more about this type of organic insecticide.

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The change in food preservation methods has affected the individual household level of food security. The art of traditional food preservation is disappearing with the advent of fridges which are expensive and beyond the reach of most households. Africa is endowed with natural sunlight and heat which are used to dry, fish, meat, fruits and vegetables during the months of plenty so that they can be eaten during the lean months. In the past, meats, edible insects, fish and vegetables were dried to be used later but these days, dried pumpkins are a rare sight. This thing called modernity has led to a lot of food wastage and food scarcity.

There is this pressure to have ready cash in order to buy modern amenities. This has affected food security in that the small-scale farmer would rather sell all the food crops from the field and then use the money to buy back the same food at a higher price. The small-scale farmer should be encouraged to grow some cash crops such as the sunflower so that the food crops are safely stored away for family consumption.

Attaining food security is possible but only if African governments place on the issue the high priority it deserves by educating the small-scale farmers in sustainable farming methods. Organic farming has become the in thing. Foods and animals produced by organic farming methods are more expensive on the market. This will attract the small-scale farmer towards organic farming methods and thus improve their "economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food."


  1. Clover. J. (2022) Food security in Sub-Saharan Africa.

  2. FAD (2003) Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualizing the

  3. [PDF], (2021) Zambia Food Security. www.iapri.orgzm72022/o4>

About the Author

Maliya Mzyece Sililo is a retired teacher and a published author of diverse genre of literary works including children's books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry and TV scripts. She has a natural gift of oral story telling. She writes in English and in two local Zambian languages, namely Tonga and Chichewa. Preferred themes are wild life, gender issues and indigenous knowledge systems. Informed and inspired by the oral tradition of her African heritage, Maliya comes up with stories that entertain, educate and inspire her audiences. She holds a BA degree with Education from the University of Zambia. She also has Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) post graduate diploma from the University of Wales. Having taught from kindergarten to tertiary level, Maliya understands young people's aspirations and frustrations well and believes that changing the mindset of Africans to be development oriented should begin at a tender age. It is this belief that brought her into writing for children more than anything else. Maliya Mzyece Sililo is the author of Koko Grows Food, an SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) selection of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter

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About the African Perspectives Series

The African Perspective Series was launched at the 2022 Nigeria International Book Fair with the first set of commissioned papers written and presented by authors of the UN SDG Book Club African Chapter. The objective of African Perspectives is to have African authors contribute to the global conversation around development challenges afflicting the African continent and to publish these important papers in the SDG Book Club blog hosted in the Stories section of the UN Namibia site. In this way, our authors' ideas about the way forward for African development, can reach the widest possible interested audience.

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