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Meeting on Horn of Africa calls for tackling root causes of famine

Food assistance to save lives today, support for agriculture and pastoralism to prevent repeat crises tomorrow

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Community-based animal health and veterinary services can help build resilience among the Horn's pastoralists.

18 August 2011, Rome - Governments, UN agencies and international organizations meeting in Rome today urged the international community to continue their support for life saving operations in the Horn of Africa but also warned that food producing farmers and herders need immediate help to prevent the crisis from deepening.

Participating in today's event were agricultural ministers from countries in the Horn of Africa, ministers and representatives of FAO Member nations, the African Union, the Presidency of the G20 (France), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Secretary-General representative, Oxfam and many other international and civil society organizations.

The day-long meeting ended with a call for a twin track approach that involves both meeting pressing relief needs as well as addressing the root causes of the problem and strengthening the affected populations' resilience in the face of future shocks.

"Even as we deal with saving lives today, we should also go further and take steps to prevent future calamities. We have to start building for the future -- now. Comprehensive, government-endorsed investment plans are already available -- the funding gaps are clear and large. If governments and their donor partners do not invest in agriculture now, the appalling famine we are struggling to redress will return to shame us yet again," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.

"Feeding the hungry does not end hunger, unless we help people provide for their futures. If donors, development agencies and governments do not attend to the medium and long term, this kind of tragedy will happen again," said IFAD Vice President Yukiko Omura. "We cannot control droughts, but we can control hunger. To do so we must invest in the world's smallholder farmers so that they can feed their communities and their families."

WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu said: "By harnessing the power of regional institutions and of partnerships, national institutions, political will and international commitment, we can break this cycle by building household resilience, protecting productive assets, and putting in place measures to avoid a similar crisis when the rains, inevitably, fail in the future."

"What the Horn of Africa region is enduring today is a manifestation of the extent to which livelihoods in Africa are extremely vulnerable to shocks -- hence the need to address such extreme vulnerability of livelihoods, and of the economies of communities and nations," said Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union.

Safeguarding local food production

While the food crisis in the Horn of Africa was triggered by drought, conflict and high food prices, the underlying reason for the region's vulnerability to such shocks is underinvestment in agriculture and inadequate management of natural resources.

Specific immediate-term measures that were flagged for priority action during today's talks include:

  • Ensuring that lifesaving food assistance needs are met and that nutrition support is scaled up
  • Saving surviving livestock to protect the food security of  pastoralists
  • Saving the forthcoming planting season starting in October ensuring that farmers have access to inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation water
  • Expanding cash-for-work programmes to allow people to buy food at local markets and prevent the sale of assets

The meeting also stressed the vital importance of supporting actions aimed at addressing the root causes of the problem in the Horn:

  • Protecting and restoring degraded land resources
  • Improving water management and expanding irrigation (only 1% of the land in the Horn of Africa region is irrigated, versus 7% in Africa and 38% in Asia)
  • Improving animal, plant, and range management practices of small scale farmers to make them less vulnerable to hazards and climate variability
  • Strengthening community-based animal health services
  • Identifying viable and acceptable alternatives to pastoral livelihoods

Support for such activities should be a sustained, multi-year effort and be linked to improvements in basic services including education, health and clean water, participants added.

The meeting recommended continued support for the African Union-sponsored Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which envisions investing more in supporting livelihood resilience in drought prone areas.

From crisis to recovery

The technical meeting was organized by FAO as a follow-up to the Emergency Ministerial-Level Meeting on the Horn of Africa, convened on 25 July 2011 at the request of the French Presidency of the G-20. The event aimed to review both immediate as well as longer-term responses to the crisis. Recommendations generated by the meeting will guide international response efforts and help prepare upcoming advocacy, fundraising and coordination events to support the affected population in the region.