[dehai-news] (FAO.org) "Food should be a national security issue"

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Tue Jan 13 2009 - 08:28:11 EST

  "Food should be a national security issue" 13-01-2009
 Interview with M. Chipeta on the food crisis in Eastern Africa

  Mafa Chipeta, Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and FAO
Representative in Ethiopia

*13 January 2009, Rome - The food security situation in Eastern Africa
continues to worsen due to crop failures, high food prices and conflict.
Millions of food insecure people are in need of assistance. Mafa Chipeta,
Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and FAO Representative in
Ethiopia, calls for more investment in rural areas with high potential for
agricultural production.*

Question:* Ethiopia has witnessed bumper harvests over the past four years
but recent droughts led to a failure of harvest leaving millions of people
in need of emergency food aid. Many other countries in the region face a
similar crisis. What are the main reasons for these recurrent crises?

*Answer:* This happens almost every year in Eastern Africa and is going to
continue unless there is a substantive rethink about the way development in
agriculture is supported. We need to think beyond responding at the
consumption end and start putting resources on the production end.

The FAO Subregional Office services 300 million people in East Africa (about
three percent of the global population) who consume about 20 percent of
global food aid in a normal year. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan are
all in trouble - the region is pretty much what India was before the last
world war.

The response to the crisis, as I see it, focuses on a number of related

   - Most resources go into food aid. There is little investment in
   agriculture and most of it is occurring in highly degraded areas because
   that is where the poor live. We are not investing enough in areas with
   higher potential to produce surpluses that can feed the poor.
   - Farmers are being asked to bear the full price of inputs like
   fertilizers. It would make sense to lower the price of fertilizer to boost
   domestic production.
   - Only a small percentage of improved seeds is used - that needs to be
   - The market does not reward good production. If you produce a lot,
   prices will drop again. You need stable markets. Even though the market
   price may be attractive, the majority of farmers in East Africa don't have
   the capacity to respond because they do not produce enough. In fact they
   have to spend more to make up the difference between what they produce and
   what they need to eat.

Q:* Hasn't the food price crisis created a sense of urgency, a sense that
food insecurity needs a longer-term response?

*A:* It has created a sense of urgency but the response has focused on the
cities where discontent shows up more easily. Our argument is that the
sustainable response is to produce more, not to import more. We need to
create a sense of urgency, create a sense that food is a national security
issue in the whole sub-region.

*Q:* Is commercial agriculture part of the solution?

*A:* You need both small-scale and bigger farms. One of the problems is that
some countries have too many farmers and need to get people off the land
into other activities. But in order to create jobs beyond the farm
agriculture has to produce more, so you have a chicken-and-egg situation. If
you do not get sufficient productivity through proper inputs, stable markets
and adequate attention to high potential areas you will never get farmers
off the land.

*Q:* What is FAO doing to help Eastern Africa address food insecurity?

*A:* We are involved in both development and humanitarian interventions. But
we also focus a lot on strengthening vulnerable households' resilience to
cope with future shocks, for example through rehabilitation of water
infrastructure, protection of natural resources, support to land
certification and strengthening of veterinary services for better
surveillance and control of transboundary animal diseases.

Overall, we focus a lot on advocacy, analytical work and policy advice. What
we are saying is that scarce resources are better spent on increasing
production than on subsidizing food. If you subsidize grain, next year you
have to subsidize it again. If you subsidize fertilizer, next year you have
less to subsidize because you will have produced more.

*(Interview by Anne Delannoy)*

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