10 August 2012

Africa: UK Hunger Summit - Breakfast of Champions?

Photo: Lauren Everitt/AllAfrica
Healthcare professionals recommend adding grains, such as millet, to the diets of young children.

opinion

The latest in a series of game-changing summits from the UK government, David Cameron's Hunger Summit this week represents excellent leadership on yet another issue that is critical for Africa.

Highlighted by agonising crises in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, more than 200 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are food insecure. Hunger, combined with a powerful mix of rapidly growing populations, rising food prices, and climate change is cause for serious concern.

To prevent an ever-worsening cycle of hunger, the Africa Progress Panels calls on African governments and international agencies to adopt the following policies:

First, put Africa's smallholder farmers and agricultural productivity at the centre of national food security and nutrition strategies.

Using minimal energy for heating, transport, or production, smallholders are among the world's smallest contributors to climate change. And yet, as the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found, they are paying the highest price for other people's emissions.

Climate change is likely to hit food security harder in Sub-Saharan Africa than any other region. Smallholder farmers face the prospect of increased drought, unpredictable rainfall, water shortages, and desertification.

These farmers need support with water management and irrigation, drought-resistant seed strains, soil conservation, and climate-resilient cropping to manage the mounting challenge of climate change

Second, create stronger social safety nets and focus more attention on the issue of inequality.

When food prices rocket or when harvests are poor, social protection programmes can help rural producers cope. Initiatives such as Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme assist farmers in difficult times to keep their children in school and without compromising their long-term productivity.

Africa may have some of the world's fastest growing economies, but such headlines conceal major inequalities. We want to see donor and public spending target disadvantaged and marginalised populations.

Third, create greater protection for Africans from "land grabs" seen in recent years.

Of an estimated 2,000 land deals around the world between 2000 and 2011, Africa accounted for 948 acquisitions covering 124 million hectares, an area larger than France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.

These acquisitions were initially triggered by sharp rises in food prices in 2007. Other factors include increases in the price of oil and growing European demand for bio-fuels.

For Africans, the benefits of such large-scale land acquisitions can be questionable. Foreign investments have resulted in the eviction of many thousands of smallholder farmers from their land, sometimes by force, and typically with minimal compensation. In western Uganda, for example, some 20,000 farmers were allegedly evicted with no compensation to make way for pine and eucalyptus plantations.

We do not question Africa's need for foreign investment. But Africa cannot afford policies that transfer land to investors motivated primarily by profit, to feed populations in other countries or to supply bio-fuel markets across the globe.

Fourth, world leaders need to intensify their commitment to reducing hunger at this week's Hunger Summit hosted by David Cameron.

Last May's G8 agreement on Food Security and Nutrition was a welcome commitment to tackling hunger, but much more needs to be done. Undernutrition still contributes to a third of all child deaths each year. Poor nutrition is undermining the development of many millions more and, with them, the development of societies and economies.

Over the last fortnight, London has been the stage for some impressive feats. We look forward to witnessing the further championing of hunger reduction as world leaders gather for the Hunger Summit on the closing day of the Olympics.

Caroline Kende-Robb is the Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel, a group of distinguished individuals, chaired by Kofi Annan, dedicated to encouraging progress in Africa.

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