Change in approach required to halt the march of starvation
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.