Saturday, August 6, 2011

East Africa’s food crisis: The answer is to promote smallholder farmers

By Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

Famine was declared in two regions of Somalia in July 2011, where 3.7 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Another eight million people need food assistance in neighbouring countries including Kenya and Ethiopia. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the situation a "catastrophic combination of conflict, high food prices and drought" and has appealed for immediate aid.

A ‘triangle of death’ has been coined by media organisations to describe this state of affairs straddling Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in which some 3.7 million Somalis - almost half of the population are going hungry. As part of East Africa, this is of concern as food availability and access is important to all citizens. Despite the multitude of reasons for this current crisis, there are fundamental issues that need to be confronted by the East African region to avoid / minimize future catastrophes happening elsewhere.

Agriculture is the leading sector for growth and development in East Africa. However, East Africa’s agricultural production and productivity is performing poorly due to policy, technology and environmental changes.

In relation to policy, a number of issues can be pointed out. But one of the most critical ones relate to inadequate access to productive resources, inadequate participation of local communities, poor physical infrastructure and utilities, weak
institutional framework, low public expenditure and unfavourable terms of trade. All these relate to a failure to invest in small holder farmers who occupy the majority of land and produce most of the crop and livestock products (ADB, 2010)

The East African Community (EAC) Secretary General's Statement on drought and food insecurity in the EAC region (released July, 29, 2011) stopped short of clearly putting this as the most effective way to address future food shortages and incidences of hunger – the role of smallholder farmers. Policy measures actions geared towards responding to food insecurity for example the EAC Food Security Action Plan, the EAC Climate Change Policy and the relevant provisions within the EAC Common Market Protocol that provides for free movement of goods and services including food commodities and conservation of
environment, are acknowledged.

East African agriculture is dominated by smallholder farmers and still accounts for about 75 percent of the labor force in East Africa, underscoring the importance of the sector in job creation and poverty reduction across countries (ADB, 2010). But the key long-standing challenge of the smallholder farmers is low productivity stemming
from the lack of access to markets, credit, and technology, in recent years compounded by the volatile food and energy prices and very recently by the global financial crisis.

Hence, much as the strategic interventions planned by the EAC are noted, there is a dire need for practical actions in support of the small holder farming through partnerships with Intergovernmental organisations, Non governmental organisations and private sector entities to address food insecurity in the region.

Brazil provides useful lessons for East Africa as it designed and implemented its food security through both strategic and practical approaches. Strategically, Brazil added ‘the right to food’ to their constitution in 2010; this milestone illustrated their commitment to the eradication of hunger in their country (IPC-UNDP, 2011). At the same time, Brazil also implemented social policies geared towards the eradication of hunger. The approval of the amendment that made the‘right to food’ an obligation of the state greatly reinforces the need to implement programmes and actions to discharge
that duty and which are supported in National Food and Nutritional Security Plan in Brazil (PNSAN).

A clear challenge is to define who should be accountable for the violation of that right, as well as to establish and make known the proper mechanisms to ensure that accountability. The food and nutritional security arena reinforced this process, since it is clearly oriented towards support to family farms as the model responsible for ensuring food sovereignty. This also highlights further aspects of food-production systems, such as the promotion of agro-ecological production systems as a guideline for the development of the National Food and Nutritional Security Plan in Brazil.
As a result Brazil has already met the targets of the first MDG and has defined more ambitious goals of reducing extreme poverty by a quarter and eradicating hunger by 2015; while the number of households facing some degree of food insecurity declined from 34.9 per cent to 30.2 per cent between 2004 and 2009 according to the Brazilian Food Insecurity Scale (EBIA).

From this experience, the lesson for East Africa is that sustainable solutions are needed. East African countries can implement similar food security policies with development of smallholder agrarian growth. The strategic commitment on the ‘right to food’ needs to be added to other measures taken, in order to stamp out food insecurity and wipe out hunger in East Africa.


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