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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Half-Century of Failed Efforts to Eradicate Hunger in Africa

At the November 1974 UN World Food Conference in Rome, representatives of 133 governments called for the eradication of the scourge of hunger and malnutrition. They pledged that within a decade – 1984 – no child will go to bed hungry and that no human being’s future will be stunted by malnutrition.

At the November 1996 World Food Security Summit held in Rome leaders of government declared that it was unconscionable that over 800 million people, most of who live in the developing world were hungry. The leaders observed that the scourge of hunger and food insecurity have global dimensions and were likely to persist unless urgent, determined and concerted action was taken.

Assembled in Maputo in July 2003 at the Second Ordinary Session of the Assembly, African heads of state expressed concern that 30 percent of their fellow citizens were chronically and severely undernourished. The leaders were also alarmed that the continent had become a net importer of food and was the largest recipient of food aid in the world. Moved by compassion for their fellow citizens, African leaders in what is now known as the Maputo Declaration resolved to adopt sound policies for agricultural and rural development and committed to allocating at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture. 

Ten years after the UN World Food Conference in Rome, the world watched in shock as the Ethiopian famine unraveled, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. The world rallied and the scale of international humanitarian support was extraordinary. Tens of millions of dollars raised helped save thousands of lives. The magnitude of the Ethiopian hunger led to efforts to ensure it never happened again. The most significant of these efforts was the famine early warning system funded by the United States Agency for International Development to provide governments and policy makers with the ability to anticipate and respond robustly to a food crisis.

In June 2005, two years after the Maputo Declaration, the United Nations World Food Programme declared that the greatest humanitarian crisis facing the world was in southern Africa, where more than 8 million people faced starvation and a lethal mix of AIDS, recurring drought and failing governance. Similarly, in Niger a combination of drought and locust infestation resulted in poor harvest, touching off a virulent food crisis, which affected 3.5 million people in 2005. The scale of the Niger food crisis was exacerbated by government inaction and poor coordination between humanitarian and development agencies.

In 2011 the Horn of Africa suffered one of the worst food crises in 60 years, affecting over 12 million people. The crisis was predicted about a year beforehand, when early warning systems signaled the possibility of drier-than-normal conditions in key pastoral areas of Ethiopia, Somalia and Northern Kenya, linked to the effects of the climatic phenomenon La Niña. But response by governments across the region was less than robust. Similarly, the Sahel is still reeling from the aftershocks of four consecutive food and nutrition crises since 2005. Drought, failed harvests, high food prices and the effects of from the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire and Mali left over 15 million people food insecure in 2012. Nutrition care and supplementary feeding continue to be a massive need with 1.4 million children in the Sahel expected to suffer from severe malnutrition in 2013. Moreover, more than 10 million people face food shortages.

According to the State of Food Insecurity  (SOFI) 2012 report nearly 870 million people were suffering from chronic under nourishment between 2010 and 2012. The vast majority of the hungry – 852 million – live in developing countries. The report notes that global number of hungry people declined by 132 million between 1990-92 and 2010-12, or from 18.6 percent to 12.5 percent of the world's population, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent in developing countries. What is disconcerting, according to the State of Food Insecurity report, is that Africa was the only region where the number of hungry grew over the period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the past four years.

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (New Alliance) was launched in 2012 under the US G8 Presidency to revitalize Africa’s agriculture through huge land deals and large agri-business investment models. Can the New Alliance reverse the half-century of monumental national and international policy failure to address Africa’s dire food security and nutrition crisis? 

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