Food Insecurity: Unacceptable in Africa

Published on 7th November 2011

A woman carries food aid                      Photo courtesy
Millions of women and children are starving, millions of them go to bed every night on an empty stomach, and millions more are facing a “silent tsunami,” malnutrition. In 10 or so minutes, 100 children around the world die from hunger- related causes, with one quarter of those deaths occurring in Africa. That is one child every six seconds. And even if a severely hungry child does not die - and most don’t - she will carry the burden of under-nutrition for life, both physically and mentally. And like her hungry parents - for they too will be hungry - she will probably live a life of hardship and deprivation.

According to WHO Statistics, around 15% of the infant weigh less than 2500 grams at birth in Africa, affecting five million new born every year. Under-nutrition amongst displaced population including refugees, due to recurrent droughts, war and civil strife and in people living with HIV is high in the Region. Diet- related chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers are increasing in Africa. It is worth to stress out that ensuring safe and healthy food is an important precondition of food and nutrition security. Unsafe food causes many acute and lifelong diseases, and the risk of unsafe food is higher in the Region, where poverty and food insecurity remain important issue to be tackled.

Children suffer up to 5.0 episodes of food and water-borne diarrhea per child per year. Food safety and food security are inextricably linked and both are undermined in times of food shortage.

Food security situation is of concern in Africa. Of the 36 countries identified to be in a state of food security crisis globally, 20 are located in Africa and food insecurity is most critical in low-income and food-deficit Sub-Saharan African countries. One of the key causes of food insecurity is the inadequate food exchange or trade between places of abundant harvests and those with deficit harvests. Thus developing intra Africa Trade is one of the key solutions of food security and poverty alleviation considering the fact that more that 70% of the people of Africa live in rural area with their income based on agriculture.

These facts are deeply saddening in themselves, but even more so when we recognize that the knowledge and tools to cut hunger and under-nutrition significantly are available. In other words, the battle against hunger and under-nutrition is winnable, now. Why are we not winning it?

Ensuring adequate access to affordable nutrition does not require new scientific breakthroughs. It is highly achievable and many nations have succeeded. It is a matter of political will in dealing with the two key drivers of hunger: inadequate food production and poor access to adequate nutritious food by each and every person. In other words, we must not only produce more food but also protect those who are denied access to it.

This is the critical task we face, as countries, communities, and individuals. We know how to meet the challenge. As illustrated by Brazil in recent years, we simply have to decide to do it. The second Africa Food and Nutrition Security Day is an occasion to feel inspired. The last decade has seen unprecedented growth in many African economies. That is one part of the inspiring news.

However, both the Economic Commission for Africa and African Development Bank have recently reported that there is growing evidence from across the continent that despite vibrant growth in many countries, poverty reduction and job creation have been sluggish. Further, and very frustratingly, hunger has been on the march all along. Had progress been made against hunger in Africa, the continent’s recent growth performance would have been even more impressive.

The other part of the inspiring news is that African leaders are acutely aware of the dangers posed by this state of affairs. They are prioritizing appropriate actions in a range of initiatives, most notably the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), which NEPAD helped shape and is leading implementation.

As suggested by Ethiopia's Prime Minister, HE Meles Zenawi, in his keynote address at the African Union’s Pledging Conference for the Horn of Africa held in Addis Ababa in August, considerable relevant practical experience with reducing hunger does exist in Africa. Many promising food and nutrition security-enhancing initiatives have been implemented across the continent. But these are usually piloting initiatives that generate relatively small and highly localized impacts. “We need to scale up these successful projects and do so very quickly,” implored the Prime Minister.

Potential points of attack on hunger are as numerous as are the causes and consequences. We must get our priorities right, and, most important, we must follow through on them. The physical, human, institutional, and financial resources required to have a serious impact on hunger in Africa must be made available at necessary scales.

It is incumbent upon us, contemporary African to find ways of changing some traditional practice and promote intra Africa trade while ensuring food and nutrition security. We need to change societies rooted in negative cultures and traditions into societies that understand what is food and nutrition security in an intensified multi sectoral and multidimensional efforts with collaboration among all the stakeholders: The partners of the African Union, including the donor community, the United Nations system, The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, NGOs and civil society organisations all working with countries in the driver seat in the quest to end this unacceptable condition because We all have a role to play. But I think the AU and NEPAD are going to be increasingly important in helping build consensus and mobilize resources to scale up successes.

It is unacceptable to live in a World of plenty and constantly “watch the other half die” of hunger and malnutrition; It is unacceptable to have so many organizations and institutions striving to improve the livelihoods of the poor with no visible impact and millions of funds thrown down the drain; It is unacceptable to have a food surplus in one side of the Continent while the other side faces famine and starvation because our borders are closed
to one another and we have laws and regulations, we worked very hard to put in place, to prevent the free movement of food our farmers grow.

This is not a situation in which a compromise is acceptable. Food for All is the only situation we should accept; the only one we can accept. How can one explain that Africa is the continent with the most resources and the poorest one?

While addressing these issues shouldn’t need us to have a special day, let us take and use this day to send a strong message to each one of us in this room, around the Continent and the World, who are fortunate enough to have 3 meals a day: this is unacceptable.

By Ambassador Haile Gebreselassie
Africa Food and Nutrition Security Day.

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