AU raises hunger for trade amid growing drought, food insecurity

Saturday February 18 2023
A man ferries water to his home in Kenya’s drought-hit Marsabit

A man ferries water to his home in Kenya’s drought-hit Marsabit County on February 10, 2023. Since January 2021, Oxfam says 20 million more people were pushed to severe hunger. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

By The EastAfrican

As the African Union prepared to launch a fresh campaign for member states to fulfil their remaining obligations on implementing the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCTA) seen as critical in raising economies, the continental body may have to first drive something other than just exchange of goods and services.

A situational report by Oxfam said on Friday more Africans had been pushed into food insecurity territory in the past year, incidentally as the continental body was discussing nutrition in 2021.

Fati N’Zi-Hassane, the Africa director at Oxfam says lack of political will has seen countries avoid obligations of providing adequate food to their populations, something that could eventually hurt the ambitions for trade.

Since January 2021, Oxfam, citing data from organisations like the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says 20 million more people — a size of the continent equivalent to entire populations of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana combined — were pushed to severe hunger.


Another 20 percent of the continent is undernourished while 55 million children aged below five are stunted, an indication of severe malnutrition.


“The hunger African people are facing today is a direct result of inadequate political choices. In a year marred with global inflation and climate disasters, African leaders should have stepped up to their responsibility”, N’Zi-Hassane said on Friday as African Union heads of state and government made their way to Addis Ababa for the AU Summit.

“African leaders must also take serious steps to free up intra-continental trade to help local farmers. They must equally ramp up programmes to help people rebuild their lives and cope with recurrent climatic shocks,” she added.

As this was happening, six million people in 32 Kenyan counties were said to be food insecure as drought escalates in the country, said the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) in its latest update released on Thursday.

Prolonged drought

The assessment conducted from January 11 to February 10 said that prolonged drought has worsened the hunger crisis in Kenya’s arid counties, threatening stability and cohesion. Linked to the fifth consecutive failed rain season, impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, high cost of farm input and fall armyworm infestation, the grim food and water security situation in Kenya is expected to prolong until the onset of the March-May long rain season, NDMA warned.

Last week, AU leaders gathered in Addis Ababa under the theme “The year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation.”

Albert Muchanga, the AU Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry and Minerals, says the theme is meant to generate political will as the AU and all its organs will prioritise trade.

“It will serve to mobilise solutions and solidarity to turn that vision into reality,” he said. “(Its) interlinkage with member states, AU bodies, private sector actors, development partners, and other stakeholders, who have important roles to play to accelerate the implementation of the AfCFTA.”

Mr Muchanga added that all efforts must be thrown into making the pact a success.

 “Right now, it (AfCFTA) is Africa’s biggest development program and hence we are accelerating implementation of the agreement, establishing the African continental free trade area. We cannot afford to fail. We cannot afford to relax,” Muchanga said.

Free movement of persons

Speaking at a briefing in Addis Ababa, he said AfCFTA would help Africa realise a continental market with free movement of persons, capital, goods and services to deepen economic integration, promote agricultural development, food security, industrialization and structural economic transformation.

A bulletin issued ahead of the Summit said trade will present an opportunity for job creation and elevate 30 million people from extreme poverty and another 68 million from moderate poverty, raising incomes by $450 billion across the continent.

“It’s a gamechanger. Africa is accelerating the implementation of AfCFTA,” the AU bulletin proclaimed, announcing programmes to gradually eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of goods and a reduction of further barriers,” read the bulletin.

Good signs

John Kalisa, chief executive of the East African Business Council said trial phases of AfCTA have shown good signs with intra-Africa goods exports reaching $82.2 billion in 2021, and East African Community exports of goods to Africa standing at $7.9 billion, a 42 percent share of EAC’s total exports of goods to the world.

“We want the EAC to engage South Sudan to ratify the AfCFTA agreement like the rest of the partner states; Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and DR Congo, and ensure the EA business community is taking advantage of the AfCFTA,” said Mr Kalisa during an AfCTA sensitisation workshop in Kigali last week.

South Sudan is the only EAC member which hasn’t ratified the AfCTA.

Trade, Oxfam argued, can profit from a continent producing enough food. But it can also suffer if people are hungry.

“Hunger breeds conflict. When people don’t have food, they resort to other things to survive,” Lazarus Nanzala, a food and climate advisor at Oxfam told The EastAfrican on the sidelines of the Summit.

“The challenge we have on the continent is not because we are not producing enough food. It is because farmers cannot access markets and the hungry cannot afford it. Focusing on trade is good because it means producers can quickly bring their produce to the market and for people to get nutritious food affordably,” she added.

Barriers to trade

The AU had in the past agreed on allocating at least 10 percent of their national budgets to agriculture. This was later modified to link food security with trade. So far, however, the continental average budgetary allocation to agriculture has been 3.8 percent. The AU says it recognises hunger and climate change as key barriers to trade.

“There is a need to mainstream climate change issues including land degradation, into the AfCFTA implementation,” the AU bulletin says.

This can be achieved “by advancing climate resilient development through several pathways including, renewable energy and transformative green industrialisation; agriculture, food and nutrition security and climate change adaptation; strengthening development finance institutions.”

Competitive scale

Experts say AfCTA can help Africa’s competitive scale. Antonio Pedro, the acting executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa says the continent can learn to avoid shocks from elsewhere.

“Only through an accelerated and effective implementation of the AfCFTA can Africa build sufficient shock absorbers to build resilience,” said Mr Pedro told the Ordinary Session of the African Union Executive Council on Thursday, a grouping of AU foreign Affairs ministers.

The AfCTA, launched in 2019 establishes a market of 1.3 billion people and a GDP of $3.4 trillion.

However, Mr Pedro said delayed ratification and implementation could hurt the regional ambitions.

Last week, the private sector and partners like GIZ began the second phase of the National Private Sector Sensitisation Workshop on AfCFTA. Each of the EAC member states will conduct local workshops in a bid to raise awareness to the next phases of AfCTA.

Additional reporting by Xinhua