Drought / East Africa / Food Security / USA / Vulnerability

Horn of Africa drought: Short-term ‘Band-Aid’ thinking not enough–CGIAR

Consortium media briefing at ILRI on drought in the Horn: Lloyd Le Page

The CGIAR Consortium Senior Information and Knowledge Officer, Enrica Porcari (middle), with CGIAR CEO Lloyd Le Page, at a CGIAR news briefing on ‘Research Options for Mitigating Drought-induced Food Crises,’ 1 Sep 2011 (photo credit: ILRI/Susan MacMillan).

Lloyd Le Page, chief executive officer of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR), is a guest columnist in the Des Moines Register, where he writes that: ‘Once again the Horn of Africa is suffering a hunger crisis of dizzying magnitude. Nearly 12 million people are in the need of humanitarian assistance, despite more than $1.5 billion in emergency aid efforts to date. . . . Relief agencies, community organizations and governments are providing much needed support to save more lives from being lost. . . .

‘This crisis is painful evidence, however, of donor and recipient countries’ failure to act on a message that is so obvious to those of us who have worked in Africa: short-term aid, while essential in crises, only bandages over the larger underlying causes of hunger. Especially in an uncertain economic climate, when every dollar invested in aid needs to be judged on its effectiveness, we must tackle the real causes of poverty that underlie the hunger crises in vulnerable countries. . . .

Investment in agricultural research is very cost-effective. Emergency food aid and relief costs seven times more than preventative measures like infrastructure and improving farm yields. Data generated by the CGIAR, the world’s largest global agricultural research partnership, shows that for every dollar invested, nine dollars worth of additional food is produced in developing countries.

Yet despite the wondrous benefits of investment in agricultural development, in the last 25 years, wealthy countries have shrunk their budgets for international agriculture at an alarming rate. Only skyrocketing food prices several years ago put agriculture back on the agenda. One result: The U.S. government created a new global food security initiative called Feed the Future. It was created to make smart, targeted investments that address the root causes of hunger, harness science and technology, build country capacity, and increase resilience among vulnerable populations.

‘But this necessary program now faces severe budget cuts in Congress when it should instead be protected as one of the government’s smartest investments. Feed the Future is precisely the sort of strategic thinking needed to help countries develop their own agricultural systems and give them a chance to absorb production shocks in the future. Cutting off forward-looking funds would be a giant leap in the wrong direction, back to short-term “Band-Aid” thinking. . . .

Let’s keep investing in strategies that work and that keep on working. The last thing that should end up on the cutting room floor are the tools we actually have to avert famine in the future.

Read the whole opinion piece by Le Page at the Des Moines Register: A famine-proof world requires investment in farm research, 6 Sep 2011.

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