Bill Gates has an opinion piece in the New York Times this week, following Oxfam and Save the Children’s recent report on the slow response to this region’s current food crisis. He rightly outlines how aid can be effective in solving hunger.
But, by focusing solely on support for farmers and agriculture, the solutions that he proposes miss the target for millions of people affected by the drought.
Many of the areas worst hit by the drought are arid lands, where the vast majority of people are not and will not be sustained by crop agriculture, particularly in the face of increasing climate variability. For them, seeds and farming tools are not the solution.
Instead we need to support pastoralists and livestock producers to improve the productivity of their herds, strengthen their access to markets, and develop resilient alternative livelihood options for those for whom livestock production is no longer sufficient (and farming is not necessarily a viable alternative in many of these areas).
There are many reasons why pastoralists’ livelihoods are destroyed – loss of herds due to drought, but also because of displacement, conflict, population growth, erosion of land rights, and inappropriate investments. These must be addressed if we are to really address the root causes of the crisis.
This will only be possible with a major increase in basic infrastructure and services, particularly appropriate education and training for all sectors of the population, and increased local control of resources.
We do need to provide more support to small-scale farmers across the region – but we must recognise that in many of the arid lands, crop agriculture solutions have only a small role to play and can further undermine livestock production systems and people who are dependent on them.