East Africa will face more devastating food crises in future unless governments take action now, Oxfam warned as it released a new report aimed at tackling world hunger within the next five years. The report, “Halving World Hunger: Still Possible”, is launched as East African leaders prepare to join the rest of the world in New York to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the first of which is to halve world hunger by 2015.
That goal is well off track, but the report argues that halving hunger is still possible if countries take the lead with the right policies and invest in agriculture, food security, social protection, and projects that prepare communities in advance for disasters and mitigate their impact.
This time last year, up to 23 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania suffered severe hunger during a major food crisis that left over a million animals dead and cost regional economies hundreds of millions of dollars. Oxfam said now is the time for governments to invest properly to meet MDGs and protect their countries against even worse crises in future. Current forecasts warn of potentially extreme weather of drought and floods in the region again later this year.
Leo Roozendaal, Oxfam’s Acting Regional Director, said: “The improved situation this year is more down to good luck than good judgement. Another bad rainy season or failed harvest could see the region plunged back into crisis. Governments must do much more to address the underlying causes of hunger in the region, such as decades of under-investment in agriculture, chronic neglect of the most vulnerable communities, and the growing threat of climate change.”
In the ten years since the MDGs were agreed, the proportion of hungry people in the world has decreased by just half a percent – from 14 percent in 2000 to 13.5 percent today. 925 million people across the world are still classed as hungry. In relative terms, sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected region globally, with one in three people suffering from hunger.
The report points to other African countries such as Ghana that are on track to meet the MDG target and reduce hunger, by supporting local producers and providing social safety nets for poor people who cannot produce or buy enough food. It also calls on donor nations to increase aid for these initiatives, and rich governments to end unfair trade policies and agricultural subsidies.
With African nations increasingly dependent on food imports, Oxfam urged the region’s governments to meet the commitments they have made to invest more in agriculture. In the 2003 Maputo Declaration, African countries committed to invest at least 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture and increase productivity by at least six percent. In East Africa, only Ethiopia has kept this promise. Kenya currently spends less then five percent.
Globally, the report finds nearly all countries that have managed to successfully reduce hunger have invested significantly in local agriculture. Those that depend on imports are much more vulnerable to rises in global food prices. With prices set to remain high, it is the poorest people who can no longer afford to buy food – many of whom receive no help or protection from their governments.
Roozendaal said: “Halving hunger needs a twin-track approach. In the short term people need support through nutrition programmes, food assistance and safety nets. But we also need to look long-term and strengthen people’s resilience and capacity to produce food, improve markets and establish social protection programmes.”
The voices of women, smallholders, agricultural workers and the poorest people in society – groups who are often most vulnerable to food crises – are often left out of decision making. Despite producing food, few women own land and they are often cut off from access to credit.
There are some positive developments. The Kenyan government has announced plans to introduce cash transfers for families in the poorest urban areas, a measure Oxfam hopes will soon be implemented as it would help give people the flexibility to cope with hunger. A hunger safety net programme is already running in Turkana, one of the country’s most food insecure regions. Ethiopia has begun a national programme to combat child malnutrition, with some successful results. In Somalia, the EU is funding work to improve food security through initiatives driven by local communities. However, overall the region is still a long way off reaching its targets.
Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It’s been ten years since world leaders vowed to halve global hunger by 2015 but we are no closer towards achieving this goal. We know it is possible. We have the recipe for doing it. The only missing ingredient is the political will. When world leaders get together in New York they must put their weight behind a global action plan that will bring all countries together to tackle hunger.”
“Tackling hunger must be part of a broader MDG package. We cannot ask a mother to decide between feeding and educating her child. We cannot afford to miss a single Millennium Development Goal,” said Hobbs.