The need to bolster efforts to address hunger has never been more pronounced. Since 2019, global hunger has increased from 8.9 to 9.9%, a significant increase compared to the previous five-year period. The cost of healthy diets, coupled with economic inequality, contribute significantly to increased food insecurity. Projections indicate that most countries are off track to meet sustainable development goals related to hunger. In Africa, only one country – Uganda, is on track to meet these goals.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in increasing food insecurity, it has also heightened awareness around the need to transform food systems to ensure healthy diets for all. Global experts increasingly recognise the need to improve how our food systems function. For example, one-third of the world’s food is wasted, yet several people remain undernourished. This emphasises how disconnected our food systems are, and the need to address challenges from a systems lens.
An African food systems framework
Multiple definitions of food systems exist. Common aspects in all food systems frameworks include drivers of change, food systems components (that include actors and activities in food supply chains), and food systems outcomes.
A review of existing food systems frameworks could not identify a framework specific to the African context. To address this gap, FSNet-Africa has worked to develop a contextualised framework that will guide the research done by FSNet-Africa research teams. The food systems framework review identified the TRANSMANGO framework as a conceptualisation that could be adapted for the African context. In developing the FSNet-Africa framework, the FSNet-Africa team worked with May to adapt components of the TRANSMANGO framework to align with the African context.
The FSNet-Africa framework document highlights that there is no single African food system. The challenges that countries within Africa face related to food security vary. For example, hunger levels vary across the African continent – with half the population in countries like Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan experiencing food insecurity. In contrast, many countries in West Africa have witnessed a reduction in undernutrition.
However, there are commonalities across many African countries that warrant the development of an overarching framework for understanding food systems in Africa. First, many African countries share similar histories of colonisation and underdevelopment. Second, there are shared investments and collaborations under common governance structures, such as the African Union. As a result of the latter, Africa is witnessing greater integration through initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Finally, Africa also has a shared vision of the challenges and opportunities for people on the continent in the African Agenda 2063.
The FSNet-Africa framework includes drivers ranging from political and governance structures to socio-economic constraints that inform food systems components. The food systems components include earth spheres (issues of environmental sustainability and climate change) and livelihood capitals (resources available to Africans to meet their food and other needs). The components also include formal and informal institutions that influence how food systems function. All the actors and activities in the value chain involved in the production and consumption of food are included in the components. The framework identifies four food systems outcomes: food and nutrition security and health, livelihoods, environmental sustainability, and territorial balance (differences in outcomes that are dependent on location for example rural and urban areas).
Over the next two years, the research done by the FSNet-Africa fellows will inform the evolution and refinement of the FSNet-Africa food systems framework. Ultimately, FSNet-Africa hopes to propose a framework that can be used to understand how the African food systems could be transformed to help achieve zero hunger.