By Akanimo Sampson
With Africa said to be facing her worse food crisis since 1945, the Director-General of a United Nations agency, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Qu Dongyu, has charged the continent’s leaders at an event in Japan, to tap into the Asian tiger’s high food safety, nutrition standards, and culture of healthy foods and diets in their fight to end hunger and improve nutrition.
The big boss of the UN agency also said that African countries have the opportunity to tap into the East Asian nation’s knowledge of smart technologies, agricultural machinery and marketing.
Before giving the charge, World Relief, a group concerned with empowering the local church to serve the most vulnerable is still claiming on its website that Africa is facing the worst food crisis since 1945, pointing out that the collision of climate change, population growth and regional conflict has created massive food shortages across multiple countries in Africa.
While the cause, according to the Christian group, varies from country to country, the needs are largely the same—immediate provision of food and water, as well as long-term solutions that address the root causes.
For instance, Somaliland, a self-declared independent state within Somalia is experiencing severe drought, which has depleted livestock and forced many Somali to flee their homes. World Relief says it has been distributing emergency food relief and providing access to lifesaving water, sanitation and hygiene.
Regional conflict in South Sudan has displaced 1.9 million South Sudanese, creating competition for scarce resources, including food. World Relief is providing agricultural training as well as life saving screening and treatment for acutely malnourished children and pregnant mothers.
Cycles of massive flooding followed by prolonged droughts have destroyed crops, livestock and houses in southern and central Malawi. In partnership with the World Food Programme, the Christian group is mobilising local church leaders to distribute monthly supplies of maize, corn-soy blend, salt and oil to vulnerable families.
Due to a collision of drought and population growth, nearly four million Kenyans are now food insecure. Again, World Relief is providing food assistance to vulnerable households in Turkana North, conducting nutrition outreach and health screening for children under five.
Water deficit, pests and plant diseases have sharply increased food shortages throughout Burundi. In partnership with UNICEF, World Relief is conducting malnutrition screening for children and working with farmers to bolster agriculture production and resilience against future crises.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently aware of the situation in the continent, the FAO chief has also expressed appreciation for the fruitful collaboration between Japan and his organization in Africa, which has led to the development of efficient and inclusive rice value chains, a better measurement of food loss and waste among food industries, and the strengthening of Small and Medium Enterprises.
Dongyu who was speaking at a NEPAD–JICA event focused on improving nutrition across Africa through the Initiative for Food and Nutrition Security in Africa (IFNA) said, “we continue to count on Japan’s generosity in scaling up its support to the improvement of nutrition in Africa.” His participation at the event is part of a week-long visit to Japan – his first trip abroad since taking the helm of the UN agency on August 1. Speaking to African heads of states, agriculture ministers and representatives of the Japanese government, he made a strong case for the need to step up hunger-fighting actions in Africa.
According to the latest data, hunger is on the rise in almost all African sub-regions making Africa the continent with the highest prevalence of undernourishment. “Fighting hunger and all forms of malnutrition is, and will continue to be, FAO’s main priority in Africa”, he said.While highlighting the need to address the various aspects of nutrition, which can lead to substantive socio-economic improvements, and for innovative approaches and new ideas with a focus on pro-poor and result-oriented actions, he also stressed FAO’s unique role in strengthening countries’ capacities to evaluate and monitor their nutrition situation, providing standards and norms, and supporting knowledge transfer.
FAO, together with its partners, is working to increase African farmers’ productivity and access to nutrient-dense foods as well the availability of such foods through investments in agriculture, regulatory frameworks, public-private partnerships, technology and innovation.
The UN chief underscored that the IFNA initiative is an important mechanism to achieve these goals and that FAO will continue supporting it.