Research shows that public agricultural expenditure does not guarantee food security and nutrition

Posted on September 19, 2022

The agricultural sector plays an important role in achieving food security and improving nutrition, especially in Africa. Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger, the 2003 Maputo Declaration and the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods all aim to improve food security and nutrition within the next decade. African governments are under pressure to develop and adopt strategies and policies that enhance the capability of achieving food security for all.

The Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), through the 2003 Maputo Declaration, and the 2014 Malabo Declaration outlined several strategies that would reduce hunger and malnutrition. One such strategy is the increased investment in the agriculture sector, which would increase agricultural production, improve incomes for those working in the sector, and increase the overall development of the country. These would then translate into improved food security and nutrition.

Madalitso Kamenya, a PhD candidate from the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development has recently completed a study on the impact that public agriculture expenditure has on food security and nutrition. He analysed data from nine ECOWAS countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo) from 2000 to 2016. By applying a fixed-effect model, Kamenya was able to show that while there has been an overall increase in public expenditure in agriculture across the nine countries since the inception of CAADP, the improvement in food security was lower than expected.

Kamenya, together with Prof Sheryl Hendriks, Dr Colleta Gandidzanwa, Dr John Ulimwengu and Dr Sunday Odjo recently published a paper that provides context to the study. The paper outlines the main findings of this study which are as follows:

  • Public expenditure on agriculture increased in all nine countries between 2000 and 2016
  • The prevalence of undernourishment only improved significantly in Ghana and Mali, while the proportion of hungry people increased in Niger and Nigeria during the same period
  • The level of stunting in Nigeria showed no improvement and progress in other countries has been slow, however, Ghana, Gambia and Burkina Faso had rapidly reduced stunting during the same time frame
  • All nine countries were producing enough food to meet the per capita food requirements of the population

These findings indicate that food availability in all nine countries has improved at a national level, however, the levels of undernourishment and stunting remain high. Public expenditure on agriculture has also improved, but this has only had a positive impact on food availability, rather than food security as a whole.

The problem is that food security cannot simply be achieved with more food. All four components of food security need to be considered when designing policy; access, availability, utilisation and stability. To improve food security, Kamenya suggests that governments should assess expenditure packages to better understand the differential impact, and then make adjustments accordingly. Additionally, Kamenya suggests that governments should design and implement policies that directly address malnutrition in children.

This study is important because, as Kamenya says, ‘evidence is critical to understanding the welfare impacts government policies are having on the lives of people’. This study could be replicated in the design of national food security investment plans and help identify strategies to accelerate food security and nutrition improvements in African countries.

The full article was published in Food Policy and is available here.

- Author Andrea du Toit and Madalitso Kamenya
Published by Andrea du Toit

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