Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

The supporting environment

Food insecurity must be viewed in the context of the national and international supporting environment. Sometimes weak economic performance and poor governance, including governments' lack of commitment to securing the rights of their populations to food, must bear part of the blame for the dire situation that can be seen today. The international environment must also share this blame because of poorly developed regional cooperation, sometimes inadequate and misguided humanitarian and development assistance and economic globalization, the negative consequences of which are now emerging.


The economies of the Horn are among the poorest in the world (see Table 3), with average GNP per capita of just US$190, ranging from US$110 in Ethiopia to US$340 in Kenya.18 Although official growth rates have been relatively high in the past decade, in the Sudan, Uganda, Eritrea and Ethiopia 19 average rates over the period 1965-1998 are less impressive and, except for in Kenya and Uganda, which averaged annual growth of 4.8 and 3.8 percent, respectively, they are below or only equal to the population growth rate. There is heavy dependence on rainfed agriculture in the region, with this sector contributing between 26 percent (Kenya) and 60 percent (Somalia) of gross domestic product (GDP).20 The dependence is reflected in the fact that there is invariably a spurt in the growth statistics following a good rainy season. Similarly, a drought or other disaster has an immediate negative impact on growth. Several of the economies are also highly susceptible to international commodity prices, especially coffee and tea which dominate Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. With the exception of the Sudan, none of the countries of the region is well endowed with known mineral resources.

The growth that has occurred in some of the economies has to generate the resources required to address the problem of food insecurity. Even in those countries that have experienced growth at rates above the growth of population there is little sign of measurable improvements in the living standards of the poorest people. For most of the last three decades, governments and external donors have focused development resources on higher-potential areas, in pursuit of economic growth. There are growing fears that, even if rapid economic growth could be achieved, without deliberate redistributive measures it would not rescue the large numbers of poor and food-insecure (most of whom are concentrated in the marginal pastoral and highland areas) from their dire situation during their lifetime.

Country indicators for the Horn of Africa: 1998 estimates.

Consequently, both governments and donors need to reassess their approaches to addressing absolute poverty and food insecurity by providing more resources and assistance directed to the poorest and the most neglected, low-potential parts of their countries. The high profile that droughts and their associated emergency relief efforts receive conceals the fact that, for a variety of reasons, several countries 21 in the region have historically been the recipients of some of the lowest levels of external aid per capita in the developing world. Since 1990, Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the region has fallen by 40 percent, from US$4.2 billion to US$2.5 billion, and is currently equivalent to US$15 per capita per year. Furthermore, the share of ODA going to agriculture has declined from more than 13 to less than 7 percent, implying a cut of 50 percent in the external resources going into agriculture.22


Commitment to food security

Although most governments of the region have food security policies or poverty reduction strategies and programmes that encompass food security issues, the allocation of national resources to achieving food security does not reflect the level of commitment that is needed. For example, throughout the region, budget allocations to supporting the agricultural sector are small and declining while, in many cases, expenditures on arms have soared. There has been a tendency to increase dependence on external assistance for meeting food security goals, especially when humanitarian considerations play a part.


The long process involved in creating national policy frameworks that are conducive to economic growth is coming to fruition. For the most part, countries in Africa, including those in the Horn, have freed national currencies and liberalized external trade and internal markets. They are now in the process of privatizing key parastatals and down-sizing the civil service, and have pricing and taxation policies that are intended to enhance economic performance. The earlier systematic bias against the agricultural sector has been largely removed. So far, however, there is little if any evidence to suggest that these pro-growth reforms have had a positive impact on the poorest people and the remotest parts of the countries of the Horn. In part, this is because the resource-poor are often inadequately connected to the newly liberalized markets and, hence, are unable to benefit from the new opportunities that exist. They are also likely to benefit least from some improvements in security of tenure - 0.5 ha of marginal land will not feed a family. Being poor and in high-risk areas, they are also excluded from newly created commercial banking and rural finance initiatives.

At present, few governments in the region have explicitly pro-poor policies.23 Pressure to change this situation is coming from the international community, especially under the auspices of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative, and the need for governments to formulate their own PRS is being recognized.24 The most important manifestation of a pro-poor policy is the allocation of public expenditure to those populations and areas in which the poor predominate. In practice, this almost invariably means devoting greater amounts of public resources to rural areas and leaving more activities to the private sector in the higher-potential areas and sectors.

The most important policies for governments to adopt are the basic human right to food and poverty eradication. The eradication of poverty addresses the ability of households to produce enough food or to earn enough money to purchase it, as well as their capacity to secure entitlements to food in emergency situations. Some governments have begun to look at the more general problems of food security by formulating and implementing food security strategies and programmes. A few countries, recognizing the difficulty of meeting the needs of the poorest and most insecure, have attempted to implement safety net programmes,25 but the fiscal sustainability of these efforts is always in doubt.

Institutional framework

Several countries in the region have taken bold steps in improving their governance, especially by introducing more democratic forms of government, tackling the problem of corruption and ensuring the rule of law, and decentralizing administration. The need for personal security and confidence in the judicial system is fundamental to achieving food security. Without this foundation, people's energies are focused on survival, and they are reluctant to invest in the land, save for the future or engage in market contracts beyond their own trusted kin. Decentralized administration can effectively give a greater voice to the people in all corners of a country. However, decentralization has not always been matched by effective fiscal devolution, and limited local-level capacity to plan, fund and implement government programmes remains a constraint. Ultimately, greater devolution of responsibility to the people in marginal and remote areas is likely to improve the responsiveness of governments and donors, not only to emergency situations, but also to the real priorities for development in these areas.


All countries in the Horn of Africa have had external donors and UN agencies as partners in seeking to address the multifaceted problems of underdevelopment. The help these donors and agencies have provided has, by and large, failed to address successfully the causes of poverty and constrained access to food. Large-scale food aid programmes and emergency relief operations have been a near permanent feature of the last decade. While these have undoubtedly saved lives, in some countries a pattern of dependence on external emergency assistance has emerged, and this is not only unsustainable but has also sapped the political will of governments to tackle the fundamental problems they face with their own human and financial resources. It has become apparent that, although donors driven by humanitarian appeals are prepared to meet emergency needs, external assistance flows indicate an increasing reluctance to embark on longer-term development activities to address the problems of food insecurity in the region.

Despite repeated efforts to re-engineer themselves and their programmes, the UN agencies have been unable to meet the challenge of providing more coherent and consistent support to governments struggling with intractable development problems and periodic disasters. The agencies have been weakened by changing targets and declining resources, while fragmented and unfocused programmes have exacerbated the situation.

As part of the UN reform programme, the adoption of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) has marked a substantial step forwards in improving collaboration among UN agencies at the country level. Of the countries in the region, only in Kenya is the UNDAF being implemented. In all the other countries (except Somalia) a Common Country Assessment (CCA) has either been completed or is on-going, but only in Ethiopia has the work of formulating an UNDAF been started. Local circumstances have meant that the CCA and UNDAF formulation process has been implemented differently in each country. It is too soon to judge what the long-term impact of the UNDAF will be, but the participants currently undergoing the process recognize its potential utility. In the specific context of food security, it is important that a more clearly defined sectoral strategy for each country be developed. The first step in this process is the formation of a Food Security and Agriculture Thematic Group in which all stakeholders are represented. There is also a need for a mechanism within the Resident Coordinator system to ensure that the efforts of the many different agencies that can contribute to eliminating food insecurity are more effective and better coordinated.


Globalization, regional integration in many parts of the world and market liberalization are proceeding apace and, inevitably, have an impact on the countries of. the region. All developing countries are being increasingly brought into the global economy through international flows of trade, investment and knowledge. Although there are undoubtedly many advantages from globalization, which might accrue to the countries of the region, there are also many risks, especially in the short term. Small farmers in the region who are poorly connected to the market are unlikely to realize the benefits of liberalization. As they become part of more open markets, both domestic and international, they will inevitably face stiff competition from larger producers around the world who have ready access to modern technology, various forms of protection and growth in farm scale. The small and poorest farmers are the least able to participate in the new "knowledge-based" global economy, because they are hampered by limited access to capital, technologies, market knowledge and extra land, as well as having weak supporting institutions. Indeed, there is an evident danger that entire economies, including those in the Horn of Africa, find themselves permanently excluded from rapidly evolving technology and on the wrong side of the "information divide". Ways need to be found, at the international level through the World Trade Organization (WTO), and nationally, to ease the process of adjustment to globalization and, in particular, to protect the interests of the poor and food-insecure.

18 All these figures are below the sub-Saharan average of US$510.

19The GDP average annual growth rates for 1990-1998 are as follows: the Sudan 8 percent; Uganda 7.3 percent; Eritrea 5.2 percent; and Ethiopia 4.8 percent. These are substantially above the sub-Saharan average of 2.3 percent.

20The contribution of agriculture to GDP is much lower in Djibouti (1 percent) and Eritrea (9 percent), largely because of the predominance of port revenues. In Eritrea (before the recent war), Assab accounted for about 50 percent of GDP.

21Per capita aid levels in 1998 were below the sub-Saharan Africa average (US$21) for the three largest countries: Ethiopia (US$11), Kenya (US$16), and the Sudan (US$7) (World Bank. 2000. World development indicators 2000).

22Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data.

23Uganda's Poverty Eradication Action Plan is a notable exception.

24The HIPCs are in the process of formulating PRS Papers (PRSPs) as part of the process of qualifying for debt relief and access to the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) of the International Monetary Fund. (IMF). PRSPs are now part of the process through which all poor countries gain access to the World Bank's International Development Association (IDA) concessional loans.

25A system of social security aimed at those who, by reason of age, infirmity, handicap or other excluding factors (such as lack of access to employment), are unable to fend for themselves.

Top Of PageTable Of ContentsNext Page