/ 18 October 2019

The Agricultural Research Council promotes national food security

The Agricultural Research Council has for over 100 years helped the agricultural sector and supported government programmes to end poverty and malnutrition.
Food systems lack resilience in the face of crisis and that feed crises of their own making, driving climate change and fuelling epidemics of hunger, malnutrition, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases



The United Nations (UN), in terms of its Millennium Development goals, describes poverty as the inability to feed the nation with quality, nutritious food. The UN aims to eradicate poverty and malnutrition by 2030. Poverty deprives people of quality healthcare, education and living standards.

The Food Agricultural Organisation has a goal to feed 2.9-billion people by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa was among the fastest-growing regions between 2004 and 2014, with an average growth rate of 5.8%. The World Bank has forecast that by 2030 half of Africa will be living in poverty.

The world celebrated World Food Day on October 16, but the above scenario paints a grim picture for policymakers, political leadership and the agricultural sector. It requires unified, proactive action to push back the frontiers of poverty.

In an effort to eradicate poverty and hunger, the African Union (AU), through its 2003 Maputo Declaration, emphasised the need for African countries to utilise their own strength, ability, resources and political leadership to generate development and growth. The then AU chairperson and Nigerian President Dr Olesegun Obasanjo said: “Improving agricultural performance is at the heart of improved economic development, growth and its role in poverty eradication, and the restoration of human dignity can never be over-emphasised.”

The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) has for over 100 years helped the agricultural sector and supported government programmes to end poverty and malnutrition, especially as pertains to the development of women and children. Through its awareness programme, ARC has been encouraging communities to start planting and eating orange sweet potatoes. This staple has many benefits, particularly for children. Studies from across Africa found that sweet potatoes contain between 100 and 1 600 micrograms (RAE) of vitamin A per 3.5 ounces — enough to meet up to 90% of vitamin A needs from this single food source.

ARC, through its research and development, is at the forefront of supporting national programmes and policies. It is also creating awareness about using indigenous crops and livestock. Indigenous crops are adapted to grow under extreme local climatic conditions, and there are enormous opportunities for the production and consumption of indigenous foods in both rural and urban areas.

Indigenous crops such as bambara and cowpea are good source of fibre, calcium and vitamins B, E and K. They have the ability to provide the nutrition needed to keep the nation healthy. Proper marketing and re-introduction of indigenous food can have a far-reaching impact in reducing hunger and poverty. This food is traditionally produced by small-holder farmers.

South Africa is proud of its widely diverse cultural groups, but only a few communities have maintained indigenous animals that have survived the harsh conditions throughout the years, such as Nguni cattle. Farming with indigenous animals has advantages because of the traditional knowledge passed from generation to generation. ARC, through its research and development, has been instrumental in increasing food supply and reducing hunger.

South African small-holder farmers lag behind other regions in terms of productivity levels, with depressed crop and livestock yields and limited use of irrigation and other inputs. By accessing improved technologies provided by the council — much of which is simple and relatively low in cost— small-holder farmers can play a significant role in increasing food availability close to where it is most needed, raise rural incomes and expand employment opportunities, as well as contributing to growth in exports.

Small-holder farmers require improved on-farm support services, pilot projects that target poor communities and a supportive policy environment. Through its small-holder farmer development programme, the Agricultural Research Council is assisting small holders to utilise scientific methods that improve the quality of their produce. It is committed to supporting farmers through its extensive research and technology transfer.