Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will the G-20 devise solutions to Africa's food problems?

About three weeks ago, members of the Great 20 developed nations, popularly known as the G-20 held their annual summit, where they agreed to triple aid meant for African nations. South Africa was the sole African representative at the summit. The event came nearly six months after thousands of the world’s population gathered in their respective cities to celebrate the International World Food Day.
It is also important to recognize the fact that one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) centers on hunger fight and poverty eradication. Leaders who attended the Millennium Summit 2000 (on behalf of their respective citizens) committed themselves to reducing the number of people experiencing extreme hunger and poverty by half, come 2015.

Development analysts, however, look at this global projection as a myth than reality. They argue that such a goal can only be achieved (especially in developing countries) of governments commit themselves to revitalizing their economies and improving agricultural sectors. So what efforts are being put in place to make this initiative a success, many may wonder?

In 2004, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) did a research through an essay competition based on the theme; “Global food basket for Africa.” The research aimed at providing lasting solutions to Africa’s world food problems. IFPRI needed ideas that would be used to persuade African governments, in a bid to fight the global challenge of soaring food prices.

However, a 2006 World Food Program (WFP) report estimated that 854 million people worldwide hardly met their daily food needs, while a quarter of the African population could hardly afford a meal. In the same year, another independent report estimated how over a million of population in war-affected areas remained food insecure. This year, the global food challenge was felt worldwide. Global climatic changes, coupled with poor agro-fuel policies from the west soared food prices, with Africa’s population feeling the real pinch. No wonder the issue of high food prices topped the agenda during the 2008 millennium challenge meeting held in New York.

The meeting, according to sources who attended, called for a worldwide concerted effort towards addressing the global catastrophe, ahead of the 2015 millennium deadline. Sudan, among other nations that participated in the meeting, pledged to commit itself in the fight against rising food prices. Despite the numerous meetings and conventions held in addressing these global problems, very little actions are usually taken. Yet actions, like they say, speak louder than words. But what could be the way forward?

Africa’s problems appear to be more complex in realty. Notably, over relying on foreign aid, poor governance, civil wars versus internal displacement, drought, flooding, use of backward (rudimentary) technologies and the limited efforts towards environmental conservation simply paint a negative scenario the MDGs achievement. Comparatively, where as farmers in developed nations used modern farming techniques of production and marketing, their counterparts in developing countries like Sudan remain obsessed with rudimentary methods mainly for subsistence and local market consumption.
Interestingly, however, international events usually host governments from the developing and developed nations discussing the same agenda. That’s absurd. The grievances of a farmer in the US, Turkey or Canada, are not the same as those of a rural farmer in South Sudan’s rural locations of Torit, Wau or Rumbek. Ideologically, how would one expect conclusions made at world summits to address the problems of the ordinary man in Sudan’s remote areas? Your guess is as good as mine.

By Ouma Alex Okello

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Food Insecurity in Acholi needs many interventions

Yona Okori, 78, a resident of Padibe sub-county in Kitgum district believes that the current wave of hunger in Acholi sub-region is because the Acholi no longer store food in the granary (dero).

He says in the 1970s until the early 1990s, many communities in Acholi produced and stored a lot of food in the dero. “The dero protects food and seeds very well, there is no doubt it would enhance food security in post war northern Uganda,” says Ochora Ocitti, an elder and a development worker in Kitgum.

However, he adds that food production is the prime factor, for one can only store what they have produced.

Agriculturalists and food security experts, however, look at this belief as a myth unless farmers can have access to adequate land for production and inputs that can improve yields.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation report for 2009 revealed that more than 50% of the Acholi IDP population have resettled in their villages or are in transit camps, but access to land has increased by only 30%. Limited access to land, inputs and market will continue to undermine crop and livestock production.

Today, WFP estimates that more than a billion people, one in every six human being, may be suffering from under-nourishment.

Uganda is among the countries with a very high global hunger index score and the northern Uganda statistics could be worst.

Joyce Alaroker, an agriculturalist in northern Uganda believes that part of the solution to lack of food in the northern region is total rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure and reducing gender inequality. Women need to have more access, control and ownership of land, she says.

Lack of food in Acholi sub-region is compounded by the fact that farmers do not have access to adequate inputs, adequate land for cultivation, bad weather, limited access to information coupled with rigidity on the use of traditional farming methods.

Despite these conditions, reports from northern Uganda also show that the workforce currently being engaged in agriculture is so low. In most transition camps or return villages, many men have abandoned their traditional roles of providing for their households.

Engaging in heavy drinking of alcohol, the recent deaths in Gulu as a result of heavy alcohol consumption clearly showed this. Low workforce limits the scale of production.

Government needs to invest in education to ensure sustainable food security. An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) report for 2009 indicates that higher levels of hunger are associated with lower literacy rates and access to education for women.

High rates of hunger are also linked to health and survival inequalities between men and women. Reducing gender disparities in key areas, particularly in education and health, is thus essential to reduce levels of hunger.

Agriculture productivity will also increase if the capacity of farmers is built. Rural communities in northern Uganda need to be facilitated to return to their villages (not by RDCs and LC 5s forcefully demolishing huts but by opening roads to villages, setting health facilities and equipping them with drugs, giving farmers hoes or ox-ploughs and seeds and erecting classroom structures for schools in return sites) so that they can have adequate access to land.

New knowledge or technologies related to primary production, processing and commercialisation can positively affect productivity and the livelihoods of farmers. Unfortunately for Uganda, the government Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) and its birth child NAADS have not delivered much. An assessment of the impact of NAADs on the rural livelihoods by IFPRI revealed that there have been no significant differences in yield growth between NAADS and non NAADS sub-counties for most crops.

On the other hand, the level of adoption of new technologies even in the NAADS sub-counties is still low.

It has also been noted that NAADS appears to have more success in promoting adoption of improved variety of crops and some other yield enhancing technologies than in promoting improved soil fertility.

This raises a lot of doubts about sustainability increases in production, the report says. The LC1 of Alenyo south ward in Wangpit parish, Padibe East sub-county in Kitgum revealed that his community is getting very little out of NAADS. He said the sub-county officials and politicians could be the real people benefiting from the programme.

Over the recent years, the Government has come out with seemingly good pro-poor policy frameworks, notably the failed NURP, NUSAF, PEAP, PMA and UPE but the implementation and success still remain miserable.

The Government should consider a number of strategies to solve the food problem. Parts of the strategy should be for the Government to contract non-profit organisations with proven records of high integrity to implement government programmes.

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