Oxfam today called on the international community to rethink its approach to food crises in Africa, particularly the use of food aid. In "Causing Hunger: an Overview of the Food Crisis in Africa,” Oxfam warns that the average number of food emergencies in Africa has nearly tripled since the mid-1980s.
While food aid is at times essential, the report shows it often arrives too late, costs too much, and becomes politicized. The report argues for increased long-term support of agriculture, infrastructure, and social safety nets. It also finds that the ravages of HIV, conflict, and climate change are major causes of food crises and must be addressed.
“The cycle of disaster and food insecurity in parts of Africa can be broken but only if the world addresses the causes of these crises,” said Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser. “Though spending on humanitarian aid is rising, donors and governments are not fully supporting the long-term strategies necessary to genuinely help Africa’s poor.”
The report is being released amid renewed threats of humanitarian crisis in Niger, where at least one million people are vulnerable to severe food insecurity as we enter the annual July to October lean season. Meanwhile in East Africa, up to 11 million people require urgent assistance. One senior UN official described the situation as “a silent tsunami.”
Food aid can save lives but should not be viewed as the inevitable default response to food insecurity, particularly where poverty is the main cause of hunger. Other innovative solutions - such as cash transfers, food vouchers, or cash-for-work programs – are often more appropriate.
Conflict is the cause of more than half of Africa’s food crises, including the crisis in Darfur, where 3.4 million people depend on food aid.
HIV/AIDS is exacting a terrifying toll on one of Africa’s key resources for food production: people. By 2020, one-fifth of the agricultural workforce in Southern Africa will likely have been claimed by AIDS.
Climate change is wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of small landholders and nomadic pastoralists in Africa. Researchers predict that about 60 million more Africans will be at risk of hunger by the 2080s because of a rise in global temperatures.
Humanitarian aid spending has increased in recent years, but global aid for agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa dropped by 43% between 1990-92 and 2000-02.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the proportion of food emergencies caused by human action has more than doubled over the last 20 years. Oxfam today called for the following:
- Donor governments must allow for more food aid to be purchased locally. And they must ensure their interventions support the livelihoods of those most at risk.
- African governments should increase agricultural spending to 10% of national budgets, as agreed at the 2003 African Union summit. Governments should also establish long-term social protection programs for people affected by chronic food insecurity.
- Aid agencies, donors, the UN, and governments should increase their use of innovative alternatives to food aid such as cash-based programming to ensure that Africa’s poor are given more sustainable and flexible assistance.