Don’t blame the drought

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security06 Jul 2011Evert-jan Quak

After nearly 18 years, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has elected its new head. The Brazilian José Graziano de Silva replaced Jacques Diouf. And what always happens after a change in leadership, all parties concerned opt for more changes. A good (and worth to read) example is Lawrence Haddad (director of the Institute of Development Studies) and Calestous Juma (professor of the practice of international development at Harvard Kennedy School) article about Graziano’s five major challenges published in The Guardian this week.

The five challenges are:

  1. The FAO has to complement its diplomatic work with closer links to knowledge-based institutions, such as universities and research organisations.

  2. The FAO needs to find new ways of engaging farmers.

  3. The FAO should support civil society in getting governments to implement and do more about hunger.

  4. The FAO should be developing “hunger diagnostics” tools that help governments prioritise the ways to tackle hunger.

  5. The FAO needs to become an outward-facing organisation, one that people would like to work with, by building strategic partnerships.

At the same time Graziano was elected all alarm bells were ringing about the famine in the Horn of Africa, yet again. And as Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says rightly referring to the (again) late and inadequate responses: ‘Each time we have had ample warning, and this time is no exception, with the crisis well signalled in November last year, so early warning systems are not to blame for the lack of reaction.’

He sets out very correctly the lack of understanding about the famine in this part of Africa. ‘Famines don’t occur in pastoral areas when rains fail unless they have other problems.’ For example pastoralists’ migration patterns are disrupted as a result of which they can’t access reserve pastures and water sources. And, ‘[c]rises occur when development investment that could support the resilience of the pastoralist economy is absent, and when livestock trading is hindered by governments worried about controlling tax revenues.’

The ‘hunger diagnostics’ of Levine looks adequate but the treatment of the patient is a story apart. A renewed FAO as Haddad and Juma would like to see, can be a step forward. With the combination of knowledge and diplomacy, the support of civil society and with an outward-facing approach the FAO can help governments and communities much better to tackle the real problems of hunger and food insecurity, which goes much further than only drought.