Top UN officials urge donors to help Africa weather food crisis

Top UN officials urge donors to help Africa weather food crisis

As more than 300 million Africans – or about one third of the continent’s population – face chronic hunger, donors must honour their pledges to help boost agriculture, which is the key to ensuring food security, top United Nations officials say.

Some 21 African countries now depend on food imports, leaving their populations highly vulnerable to increases in the global prices of such staples as rice, wheat, corn, and cooking oil, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which devoted a meeting of its governing board yesterday to the issue of Africa’s food crisis.

“Africa has been hit very hard by several crises – food, finance, fuel – without causing these crises,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi told the meeting in Geneva. “Africa is an innocent bystander.”

He warned that Africa’s food crisis may not get the attention it needs since much of the focus in recent months has been on the global financial turmoil, and the impact of that could be severe.

“There may be much less financing just when African farmers need to plant and harvest more,” he noted. “I’ve heard that in some regions, farmers can’t plant because they can’t get credit… and financing for trade has been lacking. All this has to be remedied.”

Some $22 billion has been pledged to boost agriculture in Africa, but so far “only a few billion have been delivered,” he noted. Donor countries that have pledged to increase their assistance must make good on their commitments, despite the current economic slump, he added.

“This must happen this year, because later will be too late,” said Mr. Supachai, who called for a “green revolution for Africa of the sort that has occurred in Asia.”

Managing the efforts of the UN in response to the food crisis is the Coordinator for the Global Food Security Crisis and Avian and Pandemic Influenza, David Nabarro, who told the meeting that the conditions that created the 2008 food crisis are still present.

He added that with effective, well-funded policies, Africa can both feed itself and contribute to combating hunger elsewhere in the world.