WHD 2013

Monday, November 19, 2012

 Is hunger in Africa a permanent problem? 

By Gonzalo Fanjul, independent researcher in the fields of international poverty and development

 We always seem to be hearing about a food crisis somewhere in Africa – especially in what’s called the Sahel region (encompassing parts of Chad, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sudan and South Sudan). Is hunger basically a permanent problem in this part of the world?

The yearly food crises suffered in the Sahel region of Africa since 2005 have taught us two important lessons. First, drought and food shortages now last longer and happen more often than in the past, leaving rural communities vulnerable to a volatile and more expensive market. Second, because we are talking about a chronic crisis, it is clear that the resulting problems of malnutrition cannot be treated with short-term interventions. We need a strategy that incorporates direct measures against childhood malnutrition, food security programs that increase local food production and social safety nets to protect families against the sudden shocks brought about by these droughts and increasing food prices.

This might sound like a dream, but on a recent trip to Mauritania I saw how it works in practice. The REACH program  – a coordinated effort by four UN agencies (FAO, WFP, UNICEF and WHO), led by government and supported by civil society organizations – focuses on actions that offer the best cost/profit ratio over the short and long term, while making use of local skills and capabilities.

For instance, while UNICEF and WHO work on traditional measures against childhood malnutrition (like vaccination and breastfeeding programmes), WFP is introducing social protection mechanisms such as providing cash to struggling families so they can buy food from local markets where access to food, rather than availability, is the problem. They are also helping poor farmers build storage barns so they can store their grain and sell it when they can get a better price for it. Finally, FAO is working on animal vaccination, pest control and other measures for long-term food security.

In other words, REACH tackles today’s hunger while taking preventive measures for tomorrow. With two pilot programmes in the southeast region of Mauritania aimed at 107,000 children under 5 and at 316,000 women, this initiative shows that malnutrition is not inevitable in drought-prone areas, not even in the Sahel.

More about the blogger:

Gonzalo Fanjul is the author of the 3.500 Millones blog in Spain’s EL PAÍS and is an independent researcher in the fields of international poverty and development. For more than a decade he acted as Head of Research for Oxfam Spain, where he worked on international trade and food security campaigns. He is an economist and holds a Master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Link to original web page ENDING HUNGER

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