AfDB Set to Help Regional Member Countries Deal with Food Crisis
Escalating food crisis constitute bad news for many struggling Africans, especially those living on less than one dollar a day. Though the current food crisis is global, Africa remains one of the hardest hit regions of the world, with some 150 million people at risk. Hikes in food prices have already sparked protests in many African countries and this only adds to the economic woes of a continent that already has a lot on its plate.
Speaking during the opening session of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group 2008 Annual Meetings in Maputo, Mozambique, Bank Group President, Donald Kaberuka, commended the swift international response that has resulted in the provision of food supplies to protect the poor and the vulnerable. This response, he said, was welcome, but was not adequate and the risks remained acute. He called on donors to be generous and provide specialized agencies with additional resources.
"Certainly, the world has the means to prevent starvation in the 21st Century. The most vulnerable categories are known, they include the urban poor, rural families who purchase food and people in fragile states where markets do not function well." "We will be alongside other international financial institutions providing this kind of support where feasible. Preserving the achievements of reforms of the past years is vital," Mr. Kaberuka stressed.
He cautioned against the multiplication of export bans, quotas, and export taxes which are exacerbating the problem. There is no better way to worsen the situation than to interfere with the supply chains at a delicate stage such as this. Food security is impossible anywhere without a smooth trading system: local, national, regional and global, and I hope after the initial action taken by some countries, the barriers can be reduced or removed altogether.
Mr. Kaberuka suggested that the issue of food security be addressed in the long term, adding that "the adage that feed a hungry person and he or she will be hungry tomorrow" was still as valid as ever. "We are not dealing with a short term problem; the long term solution can only mean a different way of managing our agriculture. What is to be done about African agriculture is known; it is spelt out in numerous policy statements, including NEPAD’s comprehensive agricultural policy for Africa."
While many parts of the world are going through similar food challenges, Africa will be facing more challenging times in this regard given that some of the hardest hit countries are either in conflict or emerging from conflict and are seeking to build capacity that will enable them deal with their multiple challenges. Some of the countries at risk such as Ethiopia, Niger, Somalia and Kenya are at grips with daunting environmental challenges that could spell further danger to their development efforts. In African countries where HIV/AIDS has already weakened food production capacity and productivity, rising food prices do not augur well for their economies. If not promptly and properly handled, food poverty could expose many young people to diseases, and many could skip school if they are unsure of what to eat before, during and after school.
This concern was expressed by the UNESCO Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, recently in Maputo, Mozambique, during the Eighth Biennial of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). The UNESCO boss underscored that children needed adequate food if they were to study. A shortage of foodstuffs could result in a reduction in the number of children who enroll, or who remain at school.
Given this grim outlook, Mr. Kaberuka announced that the Bank Group would add US$1 billion to its agriculture portfolio, raising it to US$ 4.8 billion, as part of a short-term action plan to help address the food crisis in its regional member countries. The announcement was made recently in a statement to the media in Tunis, Tunisia, by AfDB’s President, Donald Kaberuka. Mr. Kaberuka said the Bank Group would also restructure some of its agriculture portfolio to provide a rapid disbursement facility to the tune of US$ 250 million. He called upon cereals exporting countries not to suspend their exports because the practice would compromise the existence of about 150 million people in a dozen African states, especially people living in fragile states.
As a measure aimed at boosting food supply on the continent, the Bank Group's board of governors recently approved the establishment of the African Fertilizer Financing Mechanism Special Fund with a view to mobilizing resources to finance fertilizer production, distribution, procurement and use on the continent. Fertilizer is of strategic importance in the achievement of an African green revolution that will help to roll back hunger and disease in many parts of the continent.
The Bank Group understands the importance of infrastructure in the race to beat hunger and free millions of Africans from food poverty. It has, over the years, promoted efforts to develop modern and state-of-the-art infrastructure. During a meeting with journalists recently in Tunis, Tunisia, the AfDB president stressed the importance of infrastructure in the resolution of the current food crisis, highlighting that current average post-harvest losses stood at 40% due to the lack of infrastructure, and a reduction of such losses by 10% would result in 5 million additional tones of cereals on the continent. Infrastructure, he said, was one of the Bank Group’s priorities as it opens up landlocked parts of the continent to much-needed markets and results in local farmers earning more and reducing post-harvest losses.
He reassured the media that the Bank Group was working with partners to respond swiftly and effectively, noting however, that the crisis also provided an opportunity for Africa to think long-term regarding the continent's green revolution agenda. Mr. Kaberuka recently set up a Bank-wide taskforce to produce a "balance sheet" of the food situation in all regions of the continent to guide the institution’s immediate and long-term actions on the situation.
The AfDB understands that in the battle to check hunger, strategic alliances are necessary. In this regard, the AfDB has been working with partners such as the FAO and IFAD, and the results on the ground are very encouraging. Speaking early this year in Rome during IFAD’s thirtieth anniversary, Mr. Kaberuka emphasized the importance of the joint work between the AfDB and IFAD on the continent.
"In Tanzania and Ghana, we have worked together to support agricultural marketing systems, with IFAD supporting farmers to increase production and productivity while the AfDB focused on infrastructure related interventions; feeder roads, irrigation, storage facilities and markets. The AfDB is keen to enhance its cooperation with IFAD in these domains," he said.
"…as Africa’s development bank, we are concerned about the continued deterioration of our centers of excellence in agricultural research and the dissipation of our pool of talented scientists and agronomists. As I saw on my recent visit to an excellent agricultural research centre in Cameroon, we can reverse this decline by building excellence at the regional level," he added.