AFRICA: Help Africans to feed themselves, governments urged






NAIROBI - Eighty percent of Africans who experience frequent food shortages live on poor land in rural areas - neglect of such communities is one of the main causes of hunger on the continent, campaigners for the right to food said.

Speaking at a seminar on food security at the ongoing World Social Forum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Michael Windfuhr, the human rights director of the German charity, Bread for the World, said 50 percent of the hungry were small farmers who lived in areas without reliable infrastructure or credit facilities.

"Governments should try to use the maximum available resources in order to enable people to feed themselves," Windfuhr said on Wednesday, citing cases of forced evictions where people lose access to land and water and lose their livelihoods.

Other speakers said governments often seemed unaware of people's right to food. Mike Anane, coordinator for FIAN, an international NGO that campaigns for the right of people to feed themselves, said violations of the right to food in Ghana also resulted from poor water management.

"Entire rivers and streams are diverted by mining companies towards their tributaries, thus depriving these communities of water for irrigation purposes," Anane said.

In addition, he said, the dumping of mining rock waste on farmland also rendered the land unfit for cultivation.

Promotion of traditional African food crops and implementation of the African Union's Maputo Declaration, which urges governments to increase funding to agriculture to 10 percent of national budgets, would help improve food security, according to Anne Maina, advocacy officer for Zambia-based Participatory Ecological Land-Use Management (PALUM). The organisation is an umbrella body of grassroots civil society groups in eastern and southern Africa.

Lack of clear-cut government policies on agriculture could also undermine efforts by the people to feed themselves, she said.

Another fundamental reason for food insecurity in eastern and southern Africa, Maina said, was the collapse of agricultural marketing boards due to corruption and mismanagement. She cited Malawi and Kenya, where some marketing boards had foundered, exposing farmers to exploitation by middle-men.

Over-dependence on maize, which needs a lot of rain, as the main food crop in southern and eastern Africa was another factor that undermined food security in the region, she said.

"People have become so dependent on maize … that they say there is no food if there is no maize, yet there are other [drought-resistant] food crops they can depend on," Maina said. These include cassava, yam and pumpkins.

Lack of women's access to land for cultural and traditional reasons was another hindrance to the right to food, said Huguette Akplogan-Dossa, national coordinator of Contrôle Citoyen, a local nongovernmental organisation in Benin affiliated to the international NGO, Social Watch.

Since 1999, the organisation has been helping women in Benin negotiate access to land and micro-credit financing, thereby enhancing food production.

"Local authorities have begun to understand the need for women to have access to land," Akplogan-Dossa said.

Windfuhr said states were obliged, under the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to take necessary action to mitigate and alleviate hunger even in times of natural or other disasters.

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