Towards a shock-proof food and energy system in Africa

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security21 Dec 2010Menghestab Haile

Looking back on the conference let me first congratulate the Netherlands Government for successfully putting the issue of Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change on the global agenda and this is highly appreciated. In particular the Netherlands’s support provided to help Africa have its own conference in preparation for the Hague Conference deserves recognition. Having said this and going through “the road map for action” I would like to provide some personal comments mainly from an African perspective.

The road map for action provides a very good list of useful policies, strategies and tools (paragraph 22-47) that would be great if they were implemented. The challenge however is how to get them implemented. Talking from an African perspective it would be important to first understand and reflect on the current characteristics of agriculture and develop a community led strategy to address the priorities of those communities urgently. I would like to focus on one aspect and that is the role of rural women in the whole dialogue.

As we know the main characteristic of Africa’s agriculture is that it is subsistence, rain fed and based mainly on small land holding. In the arid and semi-arid regions agriculture is dominated by agro-pastoralist and pastoralist type of farming. Family members work on the farms providing the needed labor. Basic agricultural tools such as plough, hand hoe are used while farm animals such as oxen and donkey become part of the family labor. Women do most of the work in agriculture and in the families and yet majority of women are poor. Women’s role in agriculture encompasses the entire food system cycle, starting from production to consumption including: production – cultivation, weeding, harvesting; processing and storage; food marketing – you see the small stalls where women are selling and also buying food – and food preparation and serving the family.

For food preparation women require fuel – wood and water that they also have to fetch. In fact this is a critical link with the environment and climate change issues. A key component of rural poverty is the lack of energy – only 5% rural Africa enjoy electricity. Women in addition to working on agriculture they also have the most important responsibility and that is to look after the future generation – the children, the sick and the old as well as breast feed the babies.

Despite that women do most of the agricultural work and managing the family food security their role in agricultural planning and national policy formulation is marginalized is often not considered. Their concerns are not taken into consideration. Agricultural policy decisions are often planned and implemented with out the participation of women and as a result most policies fail to target the priority areas of intervention that would optimize return of investment.

In Africa it is recognized that climate variability and extreme weather events are among the main causes of food insecurity and hunger and rural women and children are the most affected. It is very hard to talk about adaptation and long term strategies without appropriately addressing the immediate issues affecting rural livelihoods. The road map needs to articulate on how to protect rural livelihoods from emergencies caused by climate related shocks. Here are some points that could be considered along these areas.

1. All African countries need to review their national preparedness and prevention strategies in view of the new global situation i.e. climate change and increased prices of food and energy

2. Contingency plans must be put in place with appropriately available contingency fund at continental, regional and national level

3. Enhance government safety nets for the urban poor

4. Encourage the formation of consumers association in urban centers to protect their members interests as well as strengthen farmers associations

5. Increase level of production and ensure Africa is self sufficient in food. This could be done in three ways (a) increase the productivity and production of the country’s small holder farmers (b) encourage the private sector to make extensive investment in agriculture in general and irrigated agriculture in particular (c) Government must invest in agriculture focusing on producing for national, regional and continental strategic reserves

6. Create national strategic food reserve of appropriate size pre-position in various localities.

7. Create strategic alliance on food crops trade with neighboring countries, regions and within the continent.

8. Encourage investment in renewable energies in the rural sector, ie, solar, wind, thermal and small hydro electric, in order to reduce deforestation.