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Summit focuses on Africa hunger woes

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The region has enough food but failure to harmonise national quality standards on food have prevented its free flow from surplus to deficit countries. Photo/REUTERS

The region has enough food but failure to harmonise national quality standards on food have prevented its free flow from surplus to deficit countries. Photo/REUTERS 

By George Omondi

Posted  Wednesday, February 17  2010 at  00:00
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Failure by African governments to spur increased production of food crops to feed the continent’s rapidly growing population comes into focus again as experts converge on Nairobi today in search of long-term solutions.

Organisers say the event which brings together political leaders, academics and practitioners on food security from Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, seeks to discuss emerging opportunities and best practices to address food security in the region

Under the theme “A 21st Century Framework for Food Security in Africa,” and sponsored by an American organisation — Winrocks International — the food security specialists from across the region are expected to confront the production hiccups and supply bottlenecks blamed for turning the continent into a net food importer over the last 30 years.

“Despite being a major engine for Africa’s economic growth potential, agricultural development has faced increasing pressures from recurrent drought and flood cycles, slow post-harvest infrastructure development, climate change, and political instability,” Winrock International said.

To Kenya, the forum which will be chaired by Agriculture minister William Ruto, comes amid a raging debate as to whether the government should continue to subsidise the importation of cereals to feed the more than 10 million vulnerable Kenyans or adopt the East African Community’s custom union protocol which favours locally produced food crops instead of imports.

Kenya has experienced nine quarterly rain failures, causing an acute food shortage that forced the government to declare the country’s food situation a national emergency in 2008 and renew campaigns to wean the country off rain fed agriculture.

But apart from frequent civil strife and climate change, experts have also been at loggerheads with officials barriers being erected on the paths of farmers who seek to trade in agricultural commodities in the region.

“The region has enough food to feed its people but failure to harmonise national quality standards on food have prevented the free flow of food from surplus to deficit countries within the region,” argues Mr Mainza Mugoya, a programmes officer at the East African Federation of Farmers.

Empower disadvantaged

Among the organisations participating at the Nairobi forum today are Partnership for Safe Poultry in Kenya; Higher Education in Africa and Sasakawa Association Fund for Extension Education.

Others are World Agroforestry Centre, University of Dar es Salaam, International Crops Research for the Semi-Arid Tropics Chemonics International and the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa.
Winrock International is a an NGO headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, that works with people in the US and around the world to empower the disadvantaged.