Collective action required now to tackle food crisis in East Africa

IFAD urges investment in agriculture to increase production

Rome, 1 July 2011 – In the face of a prolonged drought in East Africa that is threatening the lives of an estimated 10 million people across the region, Geoffrey Livingston, Regional Economist for East and Southern Africa at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said: “We need to act now and step up investment in agriculture and smallholder farmers if we want to prevent a major food crisis.”

The effects of climate change have been becoming more and more apparent in the region including in countries like Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, where IFAD, a specialized UN agency, works with smallholder farmers. The rise of severe weather such as droughts and flash flooding makes their lives increasingly risky: Pastoralists can not find land to feed their cattle; crops do not have enough water to grow; and poor harvests raise the already high food prices, leaving men, women and children hungry and malnourished.

The unpredictability of rains makes planning extremely difficult for smallholder farmers and pastoralists. This is why IFAD has focused its work in the region on helping smallholder farmers manage the risks imposed upon them by the effects of a changing climate. Natural Resource Management, including reforestation, erosion control, integrated soil fertility management, pasture lands development, and expanding access to water such as rainwater harvesting, are a central feature to IFAD’s country programmes. In Ethiopia, for example, IFAD’s Pastoral Community Development Project, which is co-funded by the World Bank, has taken an active role in rapidly mitigating the impact of droughts on pastoral communities. The project funds an early warning system that once triggered, sends financial assistance provided by the donor community to local districts through their respective regional governments, for the purchase of fodder and food supplements for area livestock.

In East Africa, 237 million people live in rural areas. They depend on agriculture for their livelihoods but are cultivating soils which are becoming progressively less productive, due to nutrient loss from erosion and leaching. Most smallholder farmers do not produce enough food to feed themselves and their families. Instead, they are net buyers of food. With incomes of less than US$1.25 a day, they cannot afford to buy much – especially when food prices rise due to poor harvests, as recently happened in Uganda where matoke, cassava flour and bean prices were respectively 125, 70 and 40 percent higher than the previous year.

“It was recently reported that 3.2 million Ethiopians depend on food aid. We need to enable them to rely on sustainable agriculture and smallholder farming to feed themselves and their communities. With the necessary support they can not only be key agents of economic growth and food security, but also can become key contributors to better management and preservation of an increasingly scarce natural resource base in the context of a changing climate.”

On an earlier occasion, the President of IFAD, Kanayo F. Nwanze, called for collective action to prevent food crises like this one: “If words and good intentions could feed people, there would be no hungry children in the world today. But as those of us working in development know all too well, malnutrition, hunger and poverty are bound tightly together in a Gordian knot that requires collective action to cut.”

Press release No.: IFAD/46/2011

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, IFAD has invested over US$12.9 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries, empowering more than 370 million people to break out of poverty. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the United Nation’s food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 166 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).