Change in ap­proach re­quired to halt the march of star­va­tion

East African Business Week - - EDITORIAL -

There is loom­ing hunger in the East Africa re­gion and alarm bells have al­ready gone off in the var­i­ous coun­tries. The Pres­i­dent of Kenya, Uhuru Keny­atta re­cently de­clared a state of emer­gency and the me­dia has re­ported that nearly one third of Ugan­dans are sur­viv­ing on one meal a day, with about 2 mil­lion peo­ple need­ing emer­gency food aid. Even the re­cent rains will not solve the long-stand­ing prob­lem. Usu­ally, when there are such in­stances, one looks to the World Food Pro­gramme to pro­vide re­lief. A look at their web­site de­tails some of the things they do and one of them is pro­vid­ing ‘tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance’ for coun­tries so that they can fore­stall such dis­as­ters as famine. They do this through en­cour­ag­ing the achieve­ment of the Mil­len­nium de­vel­op­ment goals like an end to poverty, zero hunger, good health, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, gen­der equal­ity and clean water and san­i­ta­tion. Once these and sev­eral other, 17 in to­tal, are achieved, it is as­sumed there will be no hunger and the coun­try will be set. How­ever, one won­ders why many of these goals are not yet achieved in many African coun­tries. The bet­ter ques­tion is, do we have to achieve all the 17 goals in or­der to end hunger? Can we not start by ad­dress­ing the main is­sues first? When one reads the Bi­ble, there is a story of a young man called Joseph who helped save Egypt from one of the worst famines to hit the re­gion. He did this by sim­ply col­lect­ing grain and other food­stuff dur­ing the plen­ti­ful sea­son and then dis­trib­uted this to the hun­gry and needy dur­ing the bad days. I won­der if this is achiev­able in the re­gion. There are dif­fer­ent land ten­ure sys­tems that cause this to be dif­fi­cult to achieve, case in point Uganda where the land is owned by in­di­vid­u­als and there is the is­sue of land frag­men­ta­tion as a re­sult of this. In other coun­tries like Rwanda, Tan­za­nia, and Bu­rundi, the land is owned by gov­ern­ment and there­fore there can be large scale projects spear­headed by gov­ern­ment. This is the way for­ward be­cause frag­mented land is not go­ing to be the an­swer if large scale agri­cul­ture is to be con­sid­ered. Rwanda has pi­o­neered by en­gag­ing the army to plant large swathes of land with crops such as cas­sava. This way, you can guar­an­tee a large har­vest that can then be stored for use dur­ing the hard times. This stor­age can also be used to con­trol price hikes and sta­bi­lize the food mar­ket. While the world food pro­gramme ap­pears to favour pol­icy leg­is­la­tion, in­sti­tu­tional ac­count­abil­ity, strate­gic plan­ning and fi­nanc­ing, na­tional pro­gramme de­sign and de­liv­ery and en­gage­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion of non-state ac­tors, these seem to be, in a state such as the cur­rent hunger cri­sis, rather long winded. Gov­ern­ments, or any able peo­ple or en­ti­ties sim­ply need to be em­pow­ered to en­gage in large scale projects where they can grow large amounts of crops, pro­vide them with good stor­age and food man­age­ment ca­pac­ity and then work on strat­egy and other de­sign re­quire­ments. It is high time ac­tion is taken and the time spent on leg­is­la­tion cut short, oth­er­wise the East African re­gion will find it­self in the same kind of prob­lem that it did dur­ing the time of the great Ethiopian famine. While it is pru­dent to go ahead with the de­tails of draft­ing and im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies, it is ac­tion in the food sec­tor that will solve the cur­rent hunger cri­sis.

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