September 3, 2014

The Key to Long Term Food Security: Small Scale Farmers

Although it is imperative that people in dire need of food get immediate relief and assistance, there needs to be long term solutions put in place to avert future crises.  One cannot predict a huge drought, but the rainfall in in East Africa has been low for the past two years, partially as a result of human induced climate change.  By the time five regions of Somalia were officially declared to be experiencing famines in July 2011, 3.7 million people were already in need of emergency aid and 10 million were affected.  Yet, in August 2010, USAID released an executive brief warning of a possible famine in East Africa in 2011.  If preventative measures are not taken to increase food security, famines will continue to occur.

Much of the arid region’s food comes from pastoralists and small scale farmers. Although 20% of global food supply comes from arid regions, they are the most vulnerable to droughts and food shortages.   Jeffrey Sachs, professor at Columbia University, has found a correlation between vulnerable arid regions and conflict zones (map can be found here on slide 3).  These conflicts can become threats to global security, evidenced by the al-Qaeda linked group, al-Shabaab, which is controlling Somalia, a hyperarid region.  In these situations, U.S. foreign policy often relies on costly military interventions, but supporting economic growth and development could instead provide an environment that would foster political security, addressing the reasons why terrorists groups could arise in the first place.

In 2011, the Consultant Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR, and international partners created the Regional Drylands Initiative to increase the resilience of 1.3 small scale farmers in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.  It aims to spread innovations that address challenges faced in the region, add value to exports, and improve access to markets.  The project has immediate short and long term effects.  Initially, there are increased crop yields and healthier livestock, and in the long term the generated economic growth of the farmers furthers security.

Investment into rainwater collecting mechanisms, irrigation techniques, drought resistant crops, and improved access to weather forecasting could make a dramatic difference in the lives of the poorest in East Africa.  Ethiopia has put a large effort into increasing water, and therefore food, security.  For instance, the Ethiopian government partially funded a small-scale irrigation project to directly provide water to 23,600 families.  Additionally, individual Ethiopians founded the Ethiopia Rainwater Harvesting Association (ERHA) for increased access to water and water security.  The ERHA has been in place since 1999 and aims to build capacity and mobilize resources to maximize water for all.

The crowning jewel of Ethiopian food security is the Tigray Project, a sustainable farming and ecological management effort aimed at small scale women farmers in the Tigray province in northern Ethiopia.  It introduced practices like composting, harvesting of water and soil, and crop diversification.  The project was locally driven and created by those with intimate knowledge of the farming communities and exclusively used local resources.  It has led to increased crop yields and personal incomes, improved hydrology, and rehabilitation of degraded areas.  The Tigray province and used to be one of the most food insecure areas, but now was part of Ethiopia least affected by the 2011 drought. Measures such as these could be implemented throughout the Horn of Africa to lead to drastically different results the next time there are low rains.

Sources:

http://www.thewaterchannel.tv/en/thewaterplaza/opinions/68-improving-small-farmers-productivity-key-to-long-term-food-security-in-horn-of-africa

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/aug/11/horn-of-africa-drought-resilience

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/aug/08/hunger-pains-famine-horn-africa

http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/famine-and-hope-in-the-horn-of-africa

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