By Yergalem Taages Beraki
Despite the vast potential and rich resources the region is endowed with, the eastern and horn of Africa sub-region is perhaps the most food insecure part of the world with significant proportion of the population facing chronic hunger and poverty.
It is worrisome to know that East Africa has the highest levels of hunger in Africa in terms of both prevalence and absolute numbers — about half of the total undernourished population of the African continent is in Eastern Africa.
According to FAO (2015), absolute number of undernourished people in the sub-region increased from around 104 million in 1990/92 to 124 million in 2014/16. While the prevalence of stunting fell between 2005 and 2017 from 29.5 to 22.9 per cent globally, the prevalence of stunting is still one of the highest in Eastern Africa where around 37 percent of children under five are too short for their age (FAO 2017).
The problem that surrounds this phenomenon is that adequate food has not been available in the region due to inadequate domestic food production and/or inadequate imports and weak purchasing powers of the poor even when food is abundant and available in local markets. Moreover, recurrent drought, conflict, and high population growthexacerbated the situation and made millions of people in the eastern and horn of Africa sub-region dependent on humanitarian assistance.
Weak or absence of intra and inter-regional trade undermine countries capacities to fill food gaps through trade and market forces.
As evidenced by a number of declarations and policy initiatives for ending hunger and food insecurity, the countries in the horn of Africa have, for decades, searched for solutions. What is missing is practical actions to make hunger a history.
Scattering of efforts and lack of coordination can be mentioned as some of the setbacks that undermine implementation of these initiatives. The fact that development initiatives are dispersed among many organisations threatens both coherence and continuity as well as possibility of coordination.
In the sub-region as elsewhere in African continent, people are massively dependent on agriculture as their main and easily accessible economic opportunity to combat both poverty and hunger. Therefore, absolute priority must go to agriculture sector with acceleration of agricultural transformation agenda.
The agricultural technology transfer efforts need to be accompanied by other measure such as creation of appropriate policy and institutional framework. Most eastern Africa countries generate no surpluses even when there is no extraordinary drought.
Cereal yields remain obstinately stagnant at around 1-1.5 Metric Tonne per hectare. The countries in the sub-region have all the land and water resources to achieve not just self-sufficiency but food abundance to feed itself and also help feed other.
African governments have agreed in 2014 in Malabo – Equatorial Guinea to increase public investment in agriculture by a minimum of 10 per cent of their national budgets and to raise agricultural productivity by at least 6%. Consolidating efforts to reach this goal and implementing this agreement by African governments is crucial.
As significant proportion of the people in Eastern Africa heavily depend on livestock to support their livelihood, any effort in addressing the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the sub-region needs to address the livestock sector prominently.
Investment in productivity as well as social protection should also transform the livestock sector especially by promoting livestock feed/fodder production on a large scale including with the involvement of the private sector.
Equally important here is that efforts need to be put to promote the fisheries and aquaculture, which is underexploited sector in the sub-region,for complementing the hunger eradication initiatives and addressing the malnutrition problems in the sub-region.
Complemented by strong purchasing power and appropriate social protection measures, trade is important in linking production and consumption. It is imperative to address impediments to intra-regional trade and promoting sub-regional economic integration that include trade agreements and structures that facilitates free movements of goods and commodities within the sub-region.
Since hunger and poverty are closely interrelated, the countries in the sub-region must conquer both. Future success requires that direct actions to combat hunger take place against the backdrop of even more important attention to conquering poverty and slowing down population growth – these remain critical.
It is also crucial to build effective partnerships with all relevant stakeholders including donors and development partners and civil society groups, as no single institutionor government can tackle this complex challenge alone. It is important to have a continued political will to keep this issue high on domestic and regional agendas, as no country can be strong when its people are weakened by hunger and food insecurity.
Ending hunger cannot be achieved without adopting a holistic approach and leveraging the power of partnerships to engage more effectively and creatively in addressing the difficult development challenges, including those linked to insecurity and vulnerability in the eastern Africa.
It is in this spirit that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) partnered with the African Union Commission (AUC) and Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as well as governments in the sub-region to implement policies and programmes to end hunger. It specifically support the creation of appropriate multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms as well as improving food security and nutrition institutional and policy frameworks.
Hunger can be defeated and there is a great potential and opportunities for the eastern and horn of Africa sub-region to make hunger a history. We can end it by working together and makeunwavering and sustainable commitment for doing so.
Mr Yergalem Taages Beraki is the Food Security Officer, FAO Sub- Regional Office for Eastern Africa (SFE)