Africa' s food crisis worsen, UN sets plans

Published on Friday 13th June 2008

Nairobi: Watching images of Pokot tribesmen of Kenya eating roasted rats in a bid to avoid starvation, one is left wondering where the east African nation is headed.

Also images of rioters in Egypt, Senegal, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Mozambique among others clashing with police in protest against soaring food prices and Kenya's abandoned IDPs all tell a similar story: Africa needs to retool its thinking.

But experts says Africa needs to focus on increasing its food production in the coming few years to avert total chaos as a result of civil strife due to food shortage.

They believe, however, Africa's food crisis is artificial and individual countries must open up their borders to each other to facilitate movement of food, agency reports said.

A former Director General of the World Agro forestry Center (ICRAF), Prof. Pedro Sanchez, challenges African political leaders to double their budgetary allocation towards research, adding that poor budgeting is to blame for the slow agricultural development in the continent.

"If we intend to realize agricultural green revolution sooner than expected in the continent then, we must realize a change in political will and mindset change in our leaders," he said.

He said that Africa's green revolution can only be achieved once the continent adopts a conducive political will and mind change towards agricultural research.

In bid to stem the looming catastrophe, the UN World Food Program (WFP) has announced a new four-year strategic plan to tackle soaring levels of hunger caused by the global food crisis.

"This strategic plan marks a revolution in food aid that supports local markets in breaking the cycle of hunger," Josette Sheeran, WFP's Executive Director, said in a statement on Friday.

"I call this our 80-80-80 solution," she told WFP's Board members gathered in Rome this week. "Eighty percent of our cash for food is spent in the developing world, 80 percent of our ground transport is procured in the developing world, and 80 percent of our staff is hired locally in the developing world."

WFP spends more than 2 billion U.S. dollars a year on food, transport and staff in the developing world.

The new strategic plan emphasizes life-saving emergency aid, such as for 3 million vulnerable people in Darfur, but it also focuses on prevention, local purchase of food, and using targeted cash and voucher programs when food is available locally but not accessible for the hungry.

The announcement of WFP's four-year strategic plan follows the High-Level Conference on World Food Security in Rome, where world leaders gathered to discuss hunger and agriculture development issues against the backdrop of high global food and fuel prices.

The tools laid out in the plan included early warning systems and vulnerability analysis, as well as preparedness and disaster reduction and mitigation, and effective emergency response in life-saving situations.

The plan also includes spending to strengthen smallholder farming, local transport and communication networks, as well as school meals and support for mother-and-child health and nutrition programs.

Last year, WFP used its cash resources to purchase 612 million dollars worth of food in 69 developing countries.

In the recently concluded global finance ministers' meeting, it was declared that food crisis poses a greater threat to economic and political stability than the crunch in the financial markets.

The World Bank estimates that 33 countries around the world face potential social unrest linked to the surging food and energy prices.

Moreover, the World Food Program is appealing for at least 500 million dollars of additional food supplies to meet current emergency needs to offset the soaring cost of basic food in Africa and other parts of the world where riots threaten political and economic stability.

"It is a crime against humanity" to focus on fuel without having solved the food problem, says Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Another key meeting will take place in Nairobi in mid-June focusing on food crisis which has sparked riots in several African countries.

The 25th food security conference sponsored by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) being held from the June 16-20 in Nairobi sets to deliberate on agricultural policies and emerging trends affecting agricultural development, food security and livelihoods.