UN agency presses for investment in agriculture to prevent food crisis in East Africa

4 July 2011

Collective, concerted action is urgently needed to prevent a major food crisis emerging across East Africa, where an estimated 10 million people now face food shortages because of a prolonged drought, a senior United Nations official has warned.

Geoffrey Livingston, a regional economist for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), called for stepped-up investment in agriculture and smallholder farmers across the region to increase food production.

“We need to act now? if we want to prevent a major food crisis,” he said on Friday, according to a press release issued by the Rome-based agency.

The warning from IFAD echoes the concerns expressed by other top UN humanitarian officials, who have spoken in recent days about the plight of millions of people across the Horn of Africa and East Africa.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti are among the countries hit hardest by the drought, whose effects have been exacerbated by high food prices that mean many people in the region go hungry and malnourished.

Mr. Livingston said the unpredictability of the rains in the region was making basic planning difficult for pastoralists and smallholder farmers, with soils becoming steadily less productive because of nutrient loss from erosion and leaching. Many farmers are now unable to produce enough food to feed themselves and their families.

IFAD is working with local farmers in East Africa to reduce the risks, such as by expanding access to rainwater harvesting, supporting reforestation programmes and improving soil fertility management.

Mr. Livingston said that with the correct support, local farmers can “not only be key agents of economic growth and food security, but also can become key contributors to better management and preservation of an increasingly scarce natural resource base in the context of a changing climate.”

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