By Munu Martin Luther
Food security is a major challenge facing the East African region. Mostly attributed to extreme weather conditions, distribution and availability challenges, the region has continued to suffer from food shortages as a result of crop failures, low purchasing power and low supplies.
Leaders as well as policy makers in East Africa need to be more forward looking in their strategies by developing a long term plan to address this challenge of tremendous complexity of systemic pressures on agricultural development and food security.
According to a report “What will East Africans East in 2040? Who will Produce the Food and How?”, recently released by Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) International, the greatest challenge for the East African Community (EAC) policy makers is to ensure that the food system continues to supply affordable and nutritious food for its growing population. This is in addition to avoiding the threat of future price volatility in food markets and competition for scarce agricultural resources.
Over the last two decades or so, the agricultural sector in the EAC countries have been faced by market access challenges for farmers, high input costs increasing energy costs, difficulties in accessing credit facilities, changing eating habits of consumers and poor extension services among others. Over the next two decades, the climate change will increase on the challenges the sector will face.
As policy makers, both at national and regional level grapples with these challenges, climate change adaptation should be at the centre of all interventions.
The report however states that it is not clear whether the relevant institutions in the respective partner states are up to the task of discerning and articulating the choices, navigating and arbitrating between competing interests and resolving conflict by finding common ground on which to enlarge the space for vision and action.
Year in year out, we get reports of either drought or floods in a number of areas vulnerable to such extreme weather conditions in East Africa. Governments and other none state actors usually come in with relief efforts to address the immediate challenge.
Much as this is welcomed, it does not provide a sustainable solution and is often “a drop of milk in a ocean”. It is important for us to institute an effective early warning system and support the agricultural sector to cope with such a shock, both internal and external.
The ever increasing energy costs as well as global measures on climate change mitigation have seen the promotion of biofuels. As a result, large portions of land are being set aside for biofuel production, competing with food crops which are already in short supply.
One question we need to ask ourselves is, “between food and fuel, which is the most basic human right?” Food is definitely a basic human right and our energy policies should take into consideration the human right to food, which is already being abused as exhibited in the recent Turkana food shortages in Kenya, last year’s severe food shortages in North Eastern Uganda.
Tanzania on the other hand experienced a rain shortage during the 2012/2013 season that led to production of food grains totalling 1.8 million tonnes, 435,000 tonnes below the expected production of 2.3 million tonnes. Rwanda and Burundi are both faced with similar challenges considering extreme weather conditions and shocks in the other partner states.
To ensure food security by 2040, there is urgent need for investment in productivity by enhancing inputs leading to a better exploitation of good seasons, creating mechanism to enhance credit availability, developing regional policies to reduce the need for food aid and hand-outs, developing policies to emphasis linking the emergency food aid to long-term development, enhancing tailor-made programmes on food security for marginal groups, promoting the use of appropriate technologies/inputs that are adaptive to climate change impacts and finally optimising the use of water for agricultural production by promoting integrated water resources management in the EAC, including joint water systems.
The writer a Ugandan, working with the Nairobi based Consumer Unity & Trust Society -Africa Resource Centre (CUTS-ARC)
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