International community must link emergency aid with long-term
infrastructure development to boost agricultural production
* By Josť Graziano da Silva, Special to Gulf News
* Published: 00:00 March 7, 2012
After six months and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, the famine
in Somalia — caused by the worst drought in 60 years — is over. But a wider
crisis in Africa continues.
In the Horn of Africa — Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, and
Sudan — some 14.6 million children, women, and men remain without enough
food. While to the west, in the Sahel countries of Niger, Chad, Mali,
Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, another 14 million are threatened.
Even worse, there is a high risk in Somalia that famine will recur unless
coordinated, long-term action is taken. We cannot avoid droughts, but we can
try to prevent them from becoming famines.
In just over a decade, the Horn of Africa has suffered three droughts,
followed by severe crises. Each time, the international community agreed
that long-term measures were needed to prevent another tragedy. But each
time, when the rains finally came, the world's good intentions melted away.
We must ensure that this does not happen again by joining forces now to
banish hunger from the region once and for all. Not to do so would be doubly
tragic, because the loss of life and human suffering would be entirely
needless: as the end of the Somali famine shows, the United Nations' Food
and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and its partners have started to make a
The World Food Programme, Unicef, FAO, and international non-governmental
organisations now have emergency response programmes that are based not
solely on food and input hand-outs, as in the past, but also on
cash-for-work and food-voucher schemes. These allow families to buy food
locally, enabling them to remain near their homes, while also stimulating
economic recovery and rehabilitating the local infrastructure needed for
agriculture and livestock production.
These agencies' methods help people who need food urgently, but they also
help them to improve their livelihoods and build resilience to surmount
future crises. For example, farmers in Somalia's Bay and Shabelle regions
took advantage of the recent rains and the aid provided by the FAO and other
agencies to double their production of maize and sorghum and bring in their
largest harvest in years.
The world community must continue to implement such approaches if it wishes
to contain and prevent further crises. Even at the height of the famine,
some Somali farmers were successfully growing and selling their crops. This
was possible because, before the crisis, FAO had used cash-for-work
programmes to help them to rebuild the local irrigation system and make
high-quality, high-yield seeds available.
But producing food is not enough. Poor farmers can grow bumper crops, but
unless there are roads on which to transport their produce, and a market
where they can sell it, they will remain poor and vulnerable. And,
obviously, if no one has the money to purchase what they produce, their
efforts will be wasted. That is why it is critical to stimulate both local
supply and demand.
Injecting cash into local economies can help them flourish. But people in
rural communities need much else as well in order to live productive and
fulfilling lives: basic social safety nets, schools, health services,
effective risk-management systems, and personal security.
The FAO is renewing its commitment to a hunger-free Africa. But this goal is
obviously beyond the capacity of any international organisation or
government working alone. Achieving this objective will require partnership
among governments, regional bodies, civil-society organisations, and the
Linking emergency assistance with long-term measures can offer a way out of
protracted crisis and onto a path of sustainable development. By stepping up
current efforts, agriculture can also become a key factor in establishing
peace and stability in the Horn of Africa — essential conditions for growth
and prosperity there.
Droughts are not preventable. But hunger and famine are. It is unthinkable
for the international community to allow them to persist.
Josť Graziano da Silva is Director General of the United Nations Food and
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Received on Wed Mar 07 2012 - 08:08:16 EST