WASHINGTON, DC – Last year, the international community recognized one of the worst humanitarian tragedies of recent times unfolding in the Horn of Africa, and moved in to ameliorate the widespread famine there. Now, poor rains, crop shortages, and continuing conflict could cause millions to be plunged back into life-threatening levels of hunger and malnutrition.
Emergency assistance is crucial in this fragile time; but it is not enough. Only if the agricultural sector’s fundamental inadequacies are addressed can the region truly escape famine’s blight.
Africa is endowed with 60% of the world’s unused arable land and millions of dedicated farmers. They simply need the tools, infrastructure, and competence to unlock the continent’s tremendous agricultural potential. There is no reason – and no excuse – to leave the survival of millions to unpredictable weather conditions. Rather, countries must take control by drastically improving efficiency and productivity.
To be sure, progress has been made. Some African governments have reduced regulatory barriers to private-sector investment in agriculture. And some are implementing risk-management and hedging tools to shield farmers from drought and flood, and poor consumers from the food-price volatility that such disasters cause. For example, the Global Index Insurance Facility insures Kenyan farmers against drought or excessive rainfall.