FAO Must Put its House In Order

Published on 17th June 2008

The 25th FAO Regional Conference for Africa being held at the UN offices in Nairobi comes in the wake of dramatic increase in food prices that have provoked street demonstrations across Africa. Though poised to discuss the challenges and implications of food security and poverty alleviation in Africa, disturbing questions linger: will FAO extricate the continent from the stark hunger that faces 200 million of its inhabitants? Why didn’t it foresee the current food crisis and prevent it?

If Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade’s allegations are anything to go by, Africa ought to wean itself from dependency on the food body, lay strategies to increase farm output and be food self-sufficient. Mr. Wade castigates FAO for being a "bottomless pit of money largely spent on its own functioning,” having little effective operations on the ground, failing the people it is meant to help, imposing institutions and experts on Africa and treating the continent like a beggar.

Whereas the conference offers Africa an opportunity to network and borrow best farming practices, the continent must be wary of  a massive agency of apparatchiks who are on one hand, dedicated to the fight against hunger while on the other hand, are being faced with unemployment should hunger be eliminated. It's natural that such organizations willingly accept the plea for more help and demand a little more money than the respective African governments originally requested.

Africa need not be hungry. The continent ought to make use of its over 2000 native grains, roots, fruits, seeds and species of native grasses that have sustained it for generations instead of rigidly using maize, wheat and rice as indicators of well-being. It ought to open up its borders with a view of avoiding the embarrassing scenario that faced Niger when the nation was plagued with acute food shortage while its neighbours had plenty.

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