An innovative solution to Africa’s food security crisis in fragile and conflict-affected countries

Hunger almost always follows conflict. Conflicts negatively impact economic activity and disrupt access to markets, often affecting smallholder farmers more acutely. And as recent events have shown, when countries at war are major food exporters like Ukraine and Russia, people living thousands of miles away can be affected by the halt in exports of agricultural products. essentials such as wheat, sunflower oil and fertilizers.

The effects of malnutrition on a society can last for decades. Declining child development, economic productivity and general human well-being are just some of the lingering effects of acute food insecurity.

In February 2022, 282 million people were going hungry in Africa, more than double the proportion in any other region of the world. Conditions are deteriorating across East Africa, where 7.2 million people are at risk of starvation and 26.5 million more face acute food insecurity. The situation in African countries in situations of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) is much worse: 29% of the population suffers from food insecurity, compared to 18% in non-FCV countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. There are also huge variations in the numbers. For example, in Cameroon, a country affected by the conflict, 13% suffer from hunger, compared to more than 50% of the population in Mali, South Sudan and Burkina Faso.

But innovative new agricultural technologies that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day with nutritious food can be part of the solution to reversing this trend.

Our new report examines the benefits of scaling up pioneering agricultural technologies in a circular food economy in FCV countries in Africa. It examines how insect farming and hydroponics can create jobs, diversify livelihoods and improve nutrition. These technologies work in places with limited resources – such as water and arable land – which is a major challenge in FCV countries. Insect and hydroponic farming also saves farmers money and government hard currency reserves by reducing food, feed and fertilizer purchases. This is especially important today given supply issues and rising food, feed and fertilizer prices.

Around 1-2 billion people worldwide eat insects, including in Africa. Insects are more environmentally friendly than other animal proteins and more nutritious than soy protein. But currently, insects are mostly collected from the wild, which poses potential dangers. Wild-feeding insects could eat crops sprayed with harmful pesticides. Overexploitation of insects can increase the risk of sinking in ecosystems, as seen with mopane worms in southern Africa. Insects collected from the wild are seasonal and mostly unavailable during the lean season.

Insect farming can provide a healthy, year-round protein supply of nutritious food for humans, livestock and fish – today we often use fish to feed livestock and fish . Operations can be set up at low cost, opening up opportunities for climate-resilient employment, including for women, youth and refugees who often live in places with limited resources. They can be located in arid areas and cities, while preserving biodiversity and other essential natural resources. We can feed insects organic waste, such as household, agricultural or brewery waste, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating climate-resilient livelihoods. Insect waste can then be fed back into the system as organic fertilizer to help improve soil health.

These innovative approaches can strengthen the African food system and fit into a circular economy that can complement conventional agriculture.

Each year, the number of new entrants and markets for insects around the world increases. The global insect food and feed market is estimated to be worth up to $8 billion by 2030, representing an annual growth rate of 24% over the next decade. The insect market in South Korea was valued at $220 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $290 million in 2022, making the country a world leader in insect farming.

Survey data collected for the report in 13 African countries shows that there are already 850 insect farms producing insects for food and feed in these countries. Imagine collecting 30% of agricultural waste from the top five crops in Africa’s top 10 agricultural economies and donating it to Black Soldier Flies. This would translate to:

  • replacing 60 million tonnes of traditional fish and soy-based animal feed, which is protein enough to cover up to 14% of the crude protein needed to raise all pigs, goats, fish and poultry in Africa ;
  • create 15 million direct and indirect jobs; incomes and livelihoods along the value chain; and
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 18 million cars off the road each year.

Insect farming and hydroponic crops can be part of efforts to improve peacebuilding and resilience to fragility, conflict and violence through the creation of a more stable and sustainable food system that offers economic opportunities by using fewer natural resources.

Building on these discoveries, we have begun piloting the farming of insects for food and feed in selected countries in Africa and are working to contribute to the global climate, food and nutrition security crisis. The team continues to work with the Korean government. This report was supported by the World Bank Korea Trust Fund for Economic Transitions and Peacebuilding (KTF).

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