Professor Yolande Berton-Ofouémé has just published (Publisher: L’Harmattan) a work of synthesis on the supply of cities and the food issue based on work carried out with Agrisud International. Here is the preface of this book, written by Yvonnick Huet, the Managing Director of Agrisud International.
Millions of inhabitants will carry on to converge to major cities of Africa.
Urbanization is a global phenomenon, an unavoidable transformation of our societies which now has an exponential character.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, when the majority of the countries gained independence in the 60s, one inhabitant in 10 lived in the cities, today it is more than 40% of the population and probably more than 55% by 2025…
According to UN-Habitat, with an average urbanization rate of 3.4% for the entire African continent (the highest in the world), major cities of Africa will reach even more inhabitants. Cities like Lagos or Kinshasa will be among the largest on the planet. Some capitals will become hypertrophic compare to other cities in their territory, creating a sort of human desert around them. Beyond the growth of large cities, we realize that this urban phenomenon is firmly established and now affects medium-sized towns. More than one in two Africans will live in a city by 2030.
This urbanization is clearly due to cities attractiveness and their economic mirage. But the growing pauperization of countrysides is obviously not unrelated to this phenomenon. Such a movement of progressive rural areas desertion, with their production potential reduced by as much, raises the question of feeding these growing urban populations.
In many cases, this increased urban demand for widely-consumed products is sorely facing local production decline. This growing gap between supply and demand is essentially offset by imported products at subsidized prices and the consequence is the development of price instability and low local production remuneration. This situation of food insecurity affects particularly the poorest, and the slightest increased income is rapidly reduced by higher food prices.
Food crises become recurrent, and it is on this occasion that we discover the importance of family farming: it represents 70% of world food production and concerns 2.8 billion people. Probably better than any other mode of agriculture, it significantly contributes to meet at least two major challenges: to properly feed the population and to manage the planet natural resources on a sustainable basis. Beyond that, it provides decent work for more than a third of humanity, strengthens social cohesion, promote the economic development of territories and slows down the exodus.
Family farming is practiced in rural areas and mainly produce the basic food crops, but these territories are often mishandled by climate or socio-economic disruptions. It is also practiced on the outskirts of cities, and called peri-urban agriculture, a job-creating activity but often unstable, and which is paradoxically rejected increasingly away from the city while urban markets solicit its fresh products, and its short supply chain which reduce prices as much as transport pollution.
Family farming thus plays an essential role, but to be effective face to the challenges confronted, it must have far more resources than it is given now, while one inhabitant in seven still suffers from undernourishment. Considering the population growth and therefore the demand for food, we can understand that food insecurity could spread out if nothing is done to contain it.
Fortunately this is not inevitable. These phenomena can indeed be contained if consistent efforts are made in favor of family farming, which remains the most effective bulwark against food insecurity. At Agrisud International, this has been our activity field for almost 30 years, and our approach has supported the development of more than 55,000 small family farms.
This approach has been built over time thanks to the commitment of an entire team over the long term. Professor Yolande Ofouémé-Berton was an early member of this team. I have had the chance to follow her career since the end of the 80s. This is a person who, since that time, has invested herself with the greatest discernment in the study of socio-economic dynamics of the market-gardening sector of Brazzaville, both by analyzing the production areas and the consumption. She quickly acquired a capacity for very fine analysis of these dynamics. Over the years, this expertise has been reinforced on numerous fields, which enabled her to defend her doctoral dissertation in 1996 on “Supplying cities in black Africa: producing, selling and consuming vegetables in Brazzaville”, under the direction of Yves Pehaut and Pierre Vennetier.
Professor Yolande Ofouémé-Berton has experience and perspective on this topic which enable her to write a particularly well-established synthesis on food issue in urban areas, based on studies carried out in contexts as different as those in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean major cities.
In this book she gives us this synthesis, a must read to all of those who, like us, know how much the food issue is more crucial than it has ever been.
Agrisud International Managing Director