In the past few decades, Eastern Africa has experienced significant economic changes which, in many ways, have contributed to improving the living conditions of millions of poor farmers and pastoralists. Agricultural production and productivity have increased. Some countries have had marked successes in reducing the level of poverty and made considerable progress along the path to zero hunger.
However, while acknowledging these positive changes, we must also ask why millions of families in the subregion are facing hunger and malnutrition. In Eastern Africa, between 1980 and 2011, the average number of people affected by food insecurity has multiplied seven-fold. Today, over 27 million individuals in the subregion are in need of food assistance, while 42pc of the population is also undernourished.
Droughts and resource-based conflicts are the main factors contributing to vulnerability to extreme food insecurity and malnutrition. A significant portion of the subregion experiences low and unreliable rainfall. Some 350 million hectares or 67pc of the total land area is classified as hyper-arid, arid or semi-arid. Pastoralists - who amount to between 15 and 20 million people in the subregion - are particularly exposed to drought risks. They face losing some or all of their main source of food, nutrition and income - their livestock. Other natural disasters, such as floods, and food chain emergencies like locusts or contagious human and livestock diseases also erode people's ability to cope with the next shock and undermine their food security.
Resource-based conflicts, demographic pressure and youth unemployment worsen the impacts of droughts, often resulting in famine, such as the case of Somalia and South Sudan. It is characterised by high rates of malnutrition, especially for mothers and children.
While the majority of the food-insecure live in rural areas, food insecurity is also emerging as a growing urban phenomenon in the major cities of the subregion. Rural-urban migration, itself is fuelled by rural deprivation and conflict, has led to a breakdown in traditional coping mechanisms and widespread unemployment. There is a high incidence of poverty and hunger, which drives other social problems such as child labour, crime and violence.
Conflicts, droughts and food insecurity must be addressed in an integrated manner or they will continue to derail progress made in achieving national and regional goals including Agenda 2063, Malabo commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals.
In a subregion that is endowed with ample arable land and is home to hundreds of millions of livestock, the continued prevalence of hunger and malnutrition is unacceptable. Through the combined efforts of the people and governments of the subregion, continental and regional organisations, as well as partners such as Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme, it is possible to eradicate hunger and change the lives of vulnerable communities.
With almost 80pc of the region's population depending on some form of agricultural production for their livelihoods - from fisheries to forestry, livestock rearing to growing crops - local food production must be at the heart of efforts to tackle hunger and raise nutrition levels. Ultimately, boosting the productivity and sustainability of agriculture is key to solving the problem of long-term food insecurity and malnutrition.This means securing production, improving distribution and ensuring access to adequate and nutritious food.
FAO, through its regional, subregional and national offices, collaborates with the African Union Commission (AUC), the Regional Economic Communities (IGAD, EAC and COMESA), and national governments in promoting policies, knowledge and technologies to enhance crop and livestock production and ensure access to food. Promoting agricultural mechanisation in Africa, for example, is a FAO-AUC flagship programme to transform African agriculture from traditional to modern farming systems.School feeding programmes in Africa are on track to tackle malnutrition among school-aged children.
FAOis working closely with AUC and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to restore dry lands, build resilience and manage existing and emerging pests, such as the Fall Armyworm in Africa.We also work with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to implement multifaceted agricultural programmes in support of the African Union's efforts to meet the 'Hunger Free Africa' aspiration by 2025. FAO supports the East African Community (EAC) to diversifying incomes within rural areas through agribusiness to increase employment opportunities outside agriculture.
For FAO, investing in stronger, more resilient agriculture-based livelihoods is key to enabling the people of Eastern Africa to cope with future shocks, and reducing the need for emergency interventions.