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A long-term strategy for food security

If the countries of the Horn of Africa are to eliminate food insecurity, they must not only boost agricultural output but also improve standards of health and education and strengthen their infrastructure so as to expand economic opportunities.


The elimination of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa must be considered a long-term development goal that can best be achieved by progressing through a sequence of challenging, yet attainable, targets. Several relevant targets were established during the series of international conferences and summits held in the 1990s, the most crucial for food security being the 1996 World Food Summit, which resolved to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015. This commitment, undertaken by Heads of State and Government attending the World Food Summit, was reiterated in the UN Millennium Summit Declaration of September 2000.

For the countries of the Horn of Africa, achieving this goal will entail a reduction in their total number of chronically undernourished people from 70 to 35 million. However, the problem of food insecurity cannot be addressed in isolation. Parallel progress needs to be made with relation to international goals set in other important areas, including poverty alleviation; education and literacy; reductions in infant, child and maternal mortality; improved reproductive health; and environmental protection. The countries of the region can now establish their own regional and national targets as well as associated indicators on the basis of these global goals.

As well as setting targets, the international conferences affirmed that their established development goals should be achieved within the framework of human rights. This "rights-based" approach recognizes the responsibility of national governments and their international development partners in ensuring the fulfilment of people's fundamental rights - including the right of everyone to be free from hunger. Second, it establishes that development beneficiaries are entitled to participate in all decisions affecting their lives.

Action taken to reach the development goals set over the past decade must be implemented simultaneously at different levels. There will always be a place for large-scale investments - in improved ports and roads, for example - but the bulk of investments in the future are likely to be on a smaller scale, responding to local preferences and needs. This implies a central role for local civil society organizations such as NGOs, farmers' associations and other community-based organizations. At the same time, governments will have to devolve as much official responsibility as possible to the local level.

The strategy to be adopted should open up opportunities for those living in the most remote areas, including the fragile and highly famine-prone highland areas and the arid and semi-arid lowland areas. They should also give women an equal voice in decision-making. Programmes will need to respond more effectively to the rights of pastoral and agropastoral people and, even when the focus is not specifically on poverty, they should be assessed for their likely impact on the distribution of income and resources in the region.

Critical to the success of any intervention is the acceptance by all partners - local and external - and beneficiaries that they are embarking on a long-term commitment, one that will span many more years than a typical development project.

The strategy comprises three core components:


The principal route to long-term food security is through broad-based agricultural development. Conditions vary greatly across the region, so it is impossible to offer universal prescriptions. Each community must determine how to make optimum use of the resources available and adjust its use of land, water and labour accordingly.

For the high-rainfall areas, there are tried and tested techniques for raising agricultural output. Farmers in these areas can also consider growing higher-value commercial crops or diversifying into livestock.

Farmers in the low-rainfall areas have fewer options. Some may be able to use small-scale irrigation or water harvesting techniques, but farmers who are limited to rainfed agriculture will have to make more efficient use of scarce moisture and adopt drought-tolerant crop varieties.

For pastoralists, the situation is somewhat different, given that they are already the most efficient and sustainable users of the region's low-rainfall marginal areas. Any efforts to improve their productivity, therefore, must take into account the delicate balance between livestock numbers and the ecology of the rangelands.

Most of these resource management decisions have to be made by the communities themselves. Governments and international organizations can, however, strengthen people's capacity to assess their resources and opportunities, facilitate their access to knowledge and expertise, and help them to test alternative solutions.

Expanding markets and trade

If the people of the region are to diversify their activities and boost productivity, they need more opportunities to market their produce and better flows of market information. At present, trade in the IGAD region is constrained by complex and high tariff structures as well as lengthy and inefficient licensing procedures. The individual countries in the region will therefore need to harmonize their policies so as to facilitate trade.

Diversifying employment and income

Farmers need to diversify their sources of income by practising more short-cycle livestock farming. In pastoral areas, the processing of milk and meat products and the production of hides and skins could provide opportunities for supplementing incomes. In the long term, however, many more people are going to have to work outside agriculture. This will require higher standards of education and more skills training as well as better transport and communications, along with easier access to markets and financial services. Governments can also help by removing any legal or bureaucratic barriers to new businesses.

Safeguarding natural resources

The best way to relieve pressure on the region's natural resources is to slow the rate of population growth. At the same time, however, it is also vital to conserve natural resources. Rather than simply trying to regulate against overuse, a better approach would be to encourage communities to safeguard their own resources while also allowing them to share in the benefits of sustainable resource and environmental management.

Improving health and nutrition

People can only take full advantage of new opportunities if they are healthy and well nourished. Having sufficient food is only a part of the solution; adequate food supplies need to be linked with improved health care, nutrition education, and safe water supplies.

The people of the Horn of Africa also require higher standards of education, with better schools and teachers. More advanced systems of information, communication and knowledge are also essential, but these need to be targeted at remote and marginalized areas and designed in close consultation with the people who will be using them, if they are to serve the needs of the poor.


As well as increasing development opportunities, governments still need to organize systems of protection for those in immediate need. The region will remain highly vulnerable to natural and human-induced disasters, so it is important to improve systems for dealing with such emergencies.

Meteorological forecasts can warn of droughts and floods with several months notice, yet this information rarely reaches farmers and pastoralists. Furthermore, governments and donors, who do have access to this information, do not yet respond quickly enough or adequately. To improve their performance, agencies require better information on the vulnerability of particular groups. It is important to build partnerships with NGOs, as they often have the most useful information.

Nowadays, relief programmes are increasingly being planned to include elements of recovery, using food- or cash-for-work programmes as well as small-scale credit schemes. This has proved difficult to carry through, however, as many staff lack the requisite experience and the funds are generally inadequate for long-term rebuilding of infrastructure and services.

Social safety nets can prevent child malnutrition, while feeding programmes, although expensive, can be made cost-effective if they are focused more directly on schools and clinics in the poorest areas and if they devolve responsibility to local community and parents' groups. The most vulnerable people - orphans, the elderly, the handicapped and the otherwise incapacitated - will need more permanent support. Any such programmes, however, must be fiscally sustainable.


Many governments in the region have embarked on wide-ranging institutional reforms. On the one hand, they have been making room for the private sector and civil society. On the other hand, they have been trying to improve the quality of residual government activities, for example increasing the efficiency of public services, fighting corruption and decentralizing many activities. These developments can help alleviate poverty and bolster food security, but governments also need to ensure that reforms meet the needs of the poorest and most marginalized members of society.

In theory, reducing the size of government should open up opportunities for alternative providers. However, there is no guarantee that a robust private sector or an active civil society will automatically materialize to fill the gaps. To encourage those operating in these sectors, governments will need to streamline regulations and procedures and to simplify trade regulations, while investing in physical infrastructure and communication systems. At the same time, they should establish an appropriate regulatory environment for NGOs.

A necessary part of this process will be decentralization. Local people should have a greater say in political processes and be allowed to fashion services to their own needs. This will not happen automatically. Local administrators will need support and training if they are to develop skills and capacities that are commensurate to their new responsibilities. To underpin all these activities, there need to be strong legal systems with fair and effective enforcement mechanisms so that people learn to trust in the rule of law.

Many of the most important activities in support of food security will take place at the local level as community-based interventions shaped by local demand and local participation. Other activities are required at the national or international level, however. At the national level, governments will need to strengthen a number of institutions and regulatory bodies, including those for agricultural research and surveys. Still other activities will need to rely on cross-border cooperation, as in the case of locust control and the control and eradication of livestock diseases such as rinderpest.

Any strategy for reducing food insecurity should also include measures for mediating current conflicts and preventing future ones. Governments should foster collaboration with NGOs that have proven skills in this task, as well as reducing both domestic and cross-border flows of arms.

Strengthening regional cooperation

Many of the issues related to food security need to be addressed at the regional level. Stronger regional cooperation can make a significant contribution to food security by creating a more favourable environment for conflict resolution, strengthening economic integration and promoting technical cooperation.

Consensus building

The ideas and principles defined in the report emerged from close consultation throughout the region with senior government officials, all of whom expressed strong support for the work of the Task Force. The UN country teams and Resident Coordinators were also very positive, noting that the initiative represented a unique opportunity for UN agencies to work together to address the problem of food insecurity.

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