16 October 2019

Zero Hunger Series: Africa is not broken - a tale of African innovations in food and well-being

World Food Day, celebrated every year on 16 October, marks the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945 as an organization that deals with global food and agricultural issues. The number of people going hungry has increased since 2014 and the prevalence of undernourishment has remained virtually unchanged in the past 3 years. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030. 

A profound change of the global food and agricultural system is needed to nourish today's 800 million hungry and the additional 2 billion increase in global population expected by 2030. The University of Pretoria (South Africa), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) SDG Hub for Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, recognizes the importance of research and innovation in food and agriculture in contributing to this movement of change. In celebration of the 2019 World Food Day, UNAI is collaborating with the university on a series of articles focusing on food security in Africa. In this second article, Professor Irma Eloff of the University of Pretoria shares stories of success in Africa in areas of health, food, education, economics and technology in her newly published book.

The African continent is rich in history, culture, diversity and most of all, innovation and capacity. However, the picture that is often painted of our beautiful continent is one of hunger, corruption and a general state of brokenness. We typically do not hear of the successes Africa is driving. For example, several African countries have reduced malnutrition over the last 15 years. Some by as much as 50%.

These are the types of stories Irma Eloff, Professor of Educational Psychology, the University of Pretoria sought to capture in her recently published book.

“I wanted to counter this idea that everything is broken in Africa. This is not the Africa I live in.” Prof. Eloff said.

The Handbook of Quality of Life in African Societies brings together positive African stories from a wide range of disciplines including health, food, education, economics and technology. It showcases the intricate connections between all the factors that influence the quality of life. The scope of stories told ranges from global to continental, country to community and most importantly, individuals, because quality of life in itself is very personal.

In the final chapter aptly titled, “Narratives of quality of life in Africa: A kaleidoscope of hope”, Prof. Eloff celebrates African capacities and innovations which are very much grounded in a culture of ubuntu (togetherness). She weaves together several mini-narratives from African initiatives that support the quality of life. One story, from John Charema, Director of Education: Mophato Education Center, Botswana, tells the tale of six Zimbabwean women who turned obstacles into opportunities.

In 2005, in Zimbabwe, there was a shortage of wheat products, including bread. Six women went for training and created the Zunga School Bakery that produces bread, scones and other products. But they were yet to face more challenges when firewood for baking became scarce. In the “spirit of African innovation”, these six women invented a biogas from dung, which they used for creating ovens for baking.

The solutions and innovations championed by this community are not only environmentally-friendly, but they also reflect the resourcefulness of Africans. These women are far removed from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), yet their efforts advance at least four of the 17 SDGs. They were able to provide food (SDG 2 Zero Hunger) and improve the well-being of their community (SDG 3 Good Health and Well-being), improve the quality of education at the school (SDG 4 Quality Education), while empowering themselves as women (SDG 5 Gender Equality).

Africa is indeed not broken. Our continent is vibrant with innovations and a willingness to take ownership of our development. More efforts are needed to appreciate and harness the capacities of our communities. In commemoration of World Food Day, we salute the women of Zunga School Bakery.

By Elizabeth Mkandawire, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow and Coordinator: UN Academic Impact Hub for SDG2 at the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being.

Other articles in the series: