Food security in Africa requires strong links between rural and urban areas

Rapid urbanization in Africa brings weighty challenges and significant opportunities.

The continent, along with the rest of the world, faces the challenge to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The second SDG seeks to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.’ This goal will only be achieved in Africa when rural-urban linkages are strengthened.

Stronger physical, economic, social, and political connections are crucial for ending hunger and malnutrition sustainably in both rural and the urban areas. Africa is becoming ever more urban. In the next 20 years the urban population is expected to double with more people living in urban areas than in rural areas. Africa will have 12 megacities by 2025. The biggest are Cairo and Tunis in North Africa but, with increasing appeal to foreign investors and growing middle classes, Dar es Salaam Lagos and Kampala are catching up.

The supply chains that link rural and urban areas together include the production, storage and processing, distribution and retail of food. Each stage of the supply chain needs to be functioning optimally to serve the needs of both the smallholder farmer and the consumer. This image below from the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Food Policy Report 2017 shows the supply chain activities and actors along the rural – urban spectrum.

rural-urban linkages

Broken value chains and poor coordination weaken rural-urban links and hold back progress on achieving food and nutrition security. When linkages are strengthened, farmers are able to sell increasing shares of their produce in urban markets, invest their additional incomes in land and inputs or invest in education for their families and prosper. Consumers also get better food products if value chain links are strong and businesses across the process are doing their jobs.

A clear example of weak rural-urban links is found in the rice value chain in Nigeria. Rice has become one of Nigeria’s most-consumed staples. National demand for rice was predicted to reach 7 million tons by 2016. In 2008 the country produced approximately 2 million tons and imported 3 million.

The country has made boosting rice production a priority. Yet, until now 60% of rice bought in urban areas is imported because of consumer anxieties about locally produced rice. These concerns include inconsistencies in taste, quality and labelling. When producing rice, the post-harvest processing - that includes milling, parboiling, and cleaning as well as weighing, bagging, and branding - plays a key role. With a highly fragmented value chain, the many small- and medium-sized rice millers that process 80% of Nigerian rice have varied skills and degrees of access to services and information, and little scope for upgrading varieties or using new and improved technologies.

Rotimi Williams, an ambitious 35-year old Nigerian entrepreneur and rice farmer said recently:

It is obvious that yields will be a lot less in comparison to the likes of Thailand and India that use full mechanisation process. We are still playing catch-up with leading rice-producing countries, which makes our produce less competitive,

Rotimi Williams 

Investment is urgently needed in rural infrastructure and transitional towns—higher quality roads, electricity, storage facilities, communications and information technologies. The transitional towns can build connections and create hubs of economic activity benefiting smallholders and cities. Policy makers at national and local levels need to ask themselves what they can do to develop rural-urban linkages and how can small- and medium sized towns be supported to link rural and urban areas?

Stronger urban and rural linkages will also have a profound impact on other SDGs, including SDG 1 – ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and SDG 8 ‘Promote sustained inclusive and sustainable economic growth’. Interventions such as investing in roads and transport; improving coordination and governance; linking farmers and processors through mobile technology - hit on many of the other goals too. 

Based on Chapter 2 of IFPRI’s 2017 Global Food Policy Report titled ‘Smallholders and urbanization: Strengthening rural-urban linkages to end hunger and malnutrition’ written by Jose Graziano Da Silva and Shenggen Fan.

The opinions represented in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of individual Malabo Montpellier Panel members and their organisations.