How can Africa feed itself while offering land to foreign nations?

Does the international community have a responsibility to help African countries develop sustainable solutions for food security?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

Governments should have the primary responsibility for designing and implementing policies to deal with food security and agricultural growth. However, governments do not have all the ability and the resources required to deal with this sort of challenges.

So it is already happening in many African countries, governments are encouraging and sometimes creating partnerships with local, regional or international partnerships to address these challenges.

And we have some good examples, for example the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which is a partnership involving African governments, foreign governments, international companies and international investors. And they are focused on local realities and local needs.

But still, I would say that national governments are in the best position to achieve deep knowledge about the requirements and challenges of food security and agriculture in their own countries. And also it’s part of their job. And if they do not make it, especially in some African countries, this will compromise their authority and legitimacy.

What happens for instance when NGOs, because states are more vulnerable or governments are just not dealing with food security challenges, and when NGOs assume that responsibility, it may have and it often has a good effect in the short-term. But at the end of the day this may contribute towards eroding the government's legitimacy and authority.

What other challenges do some African countries face?

Teresa Nogueira Pinto:

Another challenge is that the policies that national governments design to deal with food insecurity and agriculture, they have not only to guide the interventions or the initiatives of NGOS, donor states or international companies. But they have always, when necessary, they have to limit them.

This means that the initiatives of foreign companies or donor states, or even NGOs, they have to respect what are the priorities and needs of local people.

And we have some examples of how this can contribute, if this is not respected, to further instability.

After the food crisis spike in 2007/2008 food became a real concern for many governments in the world and suddenly people realised how important food is, and that we may be having some difficult times ahead concerning food security. And so land became a strategic capital asset. And there was sort of a new geopolitics of food.

And countries like China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia started looking to Africa as an alternative to feed their populations. Because as we know there are huge amounts of available arable land in Africa, often at an extremely attractive price, and there are almost no regulations concerning the land in Africa.

And what happens is that those governments who lease land to foreign nations, when their own people are struggling with food insecurity, they are increasing the potential for conflict and violence. Because sometimes we are talking about countries that have to rely on international food programmes to feed their populations, but at the same time they are leasing good land to foreign countries or foreign companies.

And we have an example of how that can even lead to regime change, in Madagascar in 2009 when the president entered a land deal with a foreign company, and he was eventually ousted by a military coup with popular support.

So in the future, the competition for resources for land and for water may become not only an African but a global concern.

(photo credit: dpa)