Friday, October 16, 2009

Global Food Crisis & African Food Security

For over a year now we’ve been hearing quite a bit about the global food crisis. Though much eclipsed now by attention to the international financial crisis, it remains one of the most pressing global issues today. The problem is that the world is reaching the limits of its capacity to feed itself, and the problem is most dire in Africa.

This is somewhat ironic, given Africa’s vast land resources, however a number of causes render this the reality: the short-sighted trade policies of the more developed nations, but also the paranoid export restrictions of many developing nations, climate changes, commodity speculation, rising fuel prices, and the diversion of important crops (notably corn) into bio-fuels.

Aside from redressing these causes (all very much political in nature), all experts on the matter agree that more energy and funding needs to be put into improving the productivity of the developing world’s farmers, especially “Africa’s 400 million small farmers and their families in Africa who are most vulnerable to hunger,” which represent “80% of the hungry in Africa” (Catherine Bertunini & Dan Glickman). Also very political, this requires that all aid programs increase their focus and funding on agriculture research and development to get to the rural farmer more agricultural inputs (enhanced grains, fertilizers, etc), better equipment and methods, and better access to markets. In a recent Foreign Affairs article, Bertunini and Glickman site that U.S. agriculture aid to Africa has dropped off 85% since the 1980s (at which point the 1970’s global food crisis seemed to be resolved).

On the ground, the global food crisis is expressed by the issue of food security, which has three core elements: the physical availability of food, the physical and economic access to food, and food utilization, all of which must be fulfilled simultaneously and continually for a household or community to have food security. While a healthy productivity is key to the world’s level of food security, in recently in West Africa the food security rub has been price, as high grain prices and general inflation is making it more a more difficult for households to feed themselves. This is the case even when the country itself is producing enough grains to feed its population (as is the case for many West African countries).

Redressing food security really implies a holistic strategy that encompasses many sectors. The Mali government, along w/ other West African countries, has been trying to weave market-based food security into its overall economic growth strategy. Donors and NGOs operating in Mali are also working food security into their programs, and recently USAID allocated quite a bit of money to Mali for food security projects. A small portion of this fundsing is going to Peace Corps Mali, whose nature and mission is in many ways is uniquely positioned to intimately understand and deal with food security issues that rural Malian community face. In the next four years the program will taking a multi-sectoral approach to the food security problem with such goals as the creation of Food Security Community Comities, encouraging the agricultural exploitation using new techniques, the creation of agricultural cooperatives, and assistance in natural resource management.

More reading on Global Food Crisis and Food Security: