ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — Efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in Africa are failing to progress as hoped when initial goals were set several years ago, José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, said last week.

 Speaking in front of heads of state and government gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 27 for the African Union (AU) summit, Graziano da Silva called for deeper and broader hunger-fighting initiatives in Africa.

“Achieving zero hunger in our lifetime is still possible,” Graziano da Silva said. “(It) will require a redoubling of current efforts and a push for political commitment and timely concrete actions such as never seen before.”

In 2013, the FAO, the AU and the Istituto Lula committed to a partnership to end hunger and malnutrition. However, a report issued in 2017 by the FAO suggests that civil conflicts and adverse climate trends have led to an increase in the number of hungry people on the continent.

Graziano da Silva called the trend in Africa “extremely worrisome,” but pointed to efforts in Brazil — where a concerted effort to lift millions of people out of poverty over the past decade has worked — as a beacon of hope. 

Graziano da Silva was not alone in his commitment to finding answers for Africa’s hunger and malnutrition problems. Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, also pledged to work toward a solution.

“The majority of undernourished people in Africa live in countries affected by conflict,” Guterres said. “Hunger is almost twice as high in conflict-affected countries with a protracted crisis.  Stronger commitment by governments, the African Union and the United Nations is needed to promote peace, human rights and sustainable development.”

At the conclusion of the AU meeting, attendees agreed on a joint initiative that includes an 11-point action plan for AU member states to renew their commitment to ending hunger in Africa by 2025. The plan includes investing in sustainable agriculture and social protection programs.

 Graziano da Silva said an investment in agriculture development is “the single most effective way to provide opportunities for families to generate income and improve nutrition in Africa.”

He said a crucial strategy includes strengthening social protection programs, especially in rural areas where most of the poor live and where formal social security systems are typically absent. He also emphasized that such programs can be linked with other productive investments to create “virtuous cycles of local development” that benefit the most vulnerable community members. Public food purchasing from family farmers is an example that has worked in many parts of the world, he noted.

Over 150 representatives of farmers associations, cooperatives social movements, civil society and non-governmental organizations and the private sector participated in a meeting back in the summer of 2013 that stressed the importance of the participation of all sectors in the fight against hunger and called on governments to commit to the eradication of hunger in Africa by 2025.

The high-level meeting organized by the AU Commission, the FAO and the Lula Institute set up by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, led to the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods. The commitment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2025 was a key component of that declaration.

 At the meeting held last week, Lula da Silva spoked via video link to the conference’s attendees.

“Each country’s budget has to be designed placing the poor at its very core to be able to guarantee to them — as something sacred, something biblical — that to have breakfast, lunch and dinner is the most basic right that every human being on Earth must have,” he said. 

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, added, “We need to put the poor at the highest political level toward African hunger eradication.”

Other participants included Alpha Condé, president of Guinea and the African Union; Hailermariam Desalegn, prime minister of Ethiopia; and ministers of agriculture of Africa and leaders of civil organizations and the private sector.