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Oxfam: Africa's poor are being failed

Monday 24th July

Current approaches to food crises are failing Africa's poor - Oxfam

See also:

  • Food Crisis Paper
  • After five decades of responding to food crises, Oxfam today asks the international community to seriously examine whether current approaches are working. Oxfam's new report argues that new thinking and more action are needed if we are to effectively address the long-term needs of the poor and hungry in Africa.

    In its report "Causing Hunger: An overview of the food crisis in Africa" Oxfam warns that the average number of food emergencies in Africa has nearly tripled since the mid 1980s. The report argues that food aid-led emergency interventions are often only a partial solution, and that increased long-term support of agriculture, infrastructure, and social safety nets in vulnerable countries is vital.

    While food aid is appropriate in certain situations, the report shows that it is often too late, too costly and too politicised. It also finds that the ravages of HIV, conflict and climate change are major causes of food crises for which a solution is possible.

    Oxfam Director, Barbara Stocking said: "The cycle of disaster and food insecurity in parts of Africa can be broken but only if the world addresses the causes of these crises. Though spending on humanitarian aid is rising, donors and governments are not fully supporting the long term strategies necessary to genuinely help Africa's poor."

    The report is being released amid renewed threats of humanitarian crisis in Niger, where at least one million people are vulnerable to severe food insecurity as we enter the annual July to October lean season. Meanwhile in East Africa up to 11million people require urgent assistance. One senior UN official described the situation as "a silent tsunami", and UN appeals to support responses to the situation are chronically under-funded.

    The blunt instrument of food aid delivery has remained the chief tool used by the international community to address food insecurity. Despite recent welcome moves from some of the major donors to buy their food aid from developing countries, most food aid is still imported, meaning it can take up to 5 months to deliver and cost up to 50 per cent more than food purchased locally.

    Although food aid can play an important role in emergencies and save lives, it should not be viewed as the inevitable default response to food insecurity, particularly where poverty is the main cause of hunger. Other innovative solutions - such as cash transfers, food vouchers or cash-for-work programmes – may be more appropriate.

    A measure of the myopic short-termism is the fact that although there has been a welcome increase in spending on humanitarian aid in recent years, aid for agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa dropped by 43% between 1990-92 and 2000-02

    Conflict, HIV and climate change compound Africa's food crises:

    • Africa's conflicts are the cause of more than half the continent's food crises. The current situation in Darfur, where 3.4m people are dependant on food aid, is a classic example of the devastating humanitarian emergency that conflict creates.

    • HIV/AIDS is exacting a terrifying toll on one of Africa's key resources for food production – people. By 2020 a fifth of the agricultural workforce in Southern African countries will have been claimed by AIDS.

    • Climate change is wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of small landholders and nomadic pastoralists in Africa. Researchers predict that about 60m more Africans will be at risk of hunger by the 2080s because of a rise in global temperatures.

    Stocking continued: "It will cost the world far less to make a major investment now in a tackling the root causes of hunger than continuing the current cycle of too little, too late that has been the reality of famine relief in Africa for nearly half a century."

    According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, the proportion of human-induced food emergencies has more than doubled over the last 20 years. But what humans have broken, humans can also mend, so Oxfam is today calling for the following actions:

    • Donor governments, particularly the US, must re-examine their food aid policy, untie their contributions, and look to increase the proportion of locally purchased food. They must also ensure interventions work more to support livelihoods of those most at risk.

    • African governments should adhere to the commitments made at the 2003 African Union summit for national governments to increase agricultural spending to 10% of budgets. Governments should also establish long-term "social protection" schemes for people affected by chronic food insecurity and make available resources for a predictable need.

    • Aid agencies, donors, UN and governments should increase their use of innovative alternatives to food aid such as cash-based programming to ensure that Africa's poor are given more sustainable and flexible assistance.


    For more information/photos/VNR & interview requests please contact:

    Prue Smith, Communications Manager, Oxfam New Zealand +64 9 355 6858 or +64 21 140 0825 prue@oxfam.org.nz

    Chloe Powell, Media Coordinator, Oxfam New Zealand +64 9 355 6500 x732 or +64 21 525 464



    • The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than $1 per day has doubled since 1981 to 313m in 2001 – 46% of population.

    • In Democratic Republic of Congo – 71% of population are undernourished, whilst in Northern Uganda – 48% children show stunted growth because of chronic malnutrition.

    • Humanitarian assistance to Africa has more than trebled since 1997 from $946m to just over $3bn in 2003 ; but aid to agricultural production in Sub Saharan Africa has sharply declined from an average of $1.7 billion between 1990-92 to $974 million between 2000-02.

    • 48% of World Food Programme supplies come from the US, largely in the form of heavily subsidised farm commodities. The WFP prefers the flexibility to buy food locally or regionally, but only a fraction of WFP donations come as cash rather than in commodities.

    • 26m people with HIV live in Sub-Saharan Africa - 60% of all people in world with virus. By 2020 a fifth of the agricultural workforce in southern African countries will have been claimed by AIDS.


    • Destocking of goat herds– Kenya

    o During the early stages of the East Africa food crisis Oxfam ran a livestock "off-take" scheme in Turkana. Through this programme weak animals are bought for 800 Kenyan Shillings (approx £6), then slaughtered. The meat, after inspection, is shared among the community, and the owner can take the skin to sell. In this way pastoralists are able to gain some money for their assets before the drought kills off the last of their herd.

    o In March Pamela Ataa took part in the scheme: "I used to have thirty goats and sheep. I'd like to sell my remaining ten goats to the off-take programme. I think all in all it's a good programme, but there needs to be more. At the moment it's just one or two animals per household".

    • Emergency cash transfers – Zambia & Malawi

    o In response to the 2005-6 Southern Africa food crisis Oxfam decided to implement a pilot programme of emergency cash transfers in Zambia and Malawi as an alternative to food aid, since local markets were still functioning in both countries. Giving people money gives them more choice, helps boost the local economy, and maintain people's dignity by not making them the passive recipients of relief.

    o Kelvin Mandanji Katonda lives Zambia's western province: "When at a community meeting Oxfam announced that the very vulnerable were going to receive cash we were surprised because we usually receive food. It was all new to us and the money turned out to be better than food; it gives us the choices to buy what we need."

    • Mobile schools bring opportunities to pastoralist children – Kenya

    o In Turkana in Northwest Kenya Oxfam supports nine mobile schools, which allow children from nomadic pastoralist communities the opportunity of an education. With an education there is more chance that families will be able to diversify their sources of income, rather than being wholly reliant on nomadic herding. 25 year-old Samuel Arie is a teacher in one of these schools in Edoie:

    o "My desire is to ensure that the children learn to read and write. This creates an opportunity for children to be able to join a formal school later, and those who can't afford to at least acquire basic knowledge in maths, English and Swahili."

    • Long term livelihoods training yields real results - Mauritania

    o Residents of the villages in Male commune in Mauritania now have flourishing vegetable gardens helped by training, tools, and seeds from Oxfam. These were introduced as part of our programme of intervention after the 2005 food crisis. The produce from these gardens is providing much needed variety and nutrients to the villagers' diets, and there are even enough excess vegetables to provide a small income through their sale at local markets.

    o One woman in Legourissi told Oxfam staff: "We didn't know how to grow tomatoes or aubergines here. Following the training, we know which type of soil is likely to yield the best results. I know about planting seeds at the right distance, and I use clean water when I sow seeds. As a result our garden is much better than before, and we are growing many different types of vegetables."

    • The impact of HIV - Tanzania

    o In Shinyanga, Tanzania Milembe Mwandu lives with her elderly mother and six grandchildren. Her three adult children died of HIV/AIDS-related illnesses

    o "Our big problem is hunger. We don't have food because there is noone to go and find food. My children, who would have done that are dead, and the ones that are here are too young to go. We used to have a big farm – five hectares. We sold it one hectare at a time to pay to live. We miss our land."

    • Voucher scheme helps pastoralists rebuild their flocks – Niger

    o In January and February 2006 Oxfam and its partner AREN (Association to Revive Herding in Niger) organised 8 livestock fairs in villages hit badly by last year's food crisis. 1500 beneficiaries of the scheme were given the equivalent of £220/$US400 in vouchers, which could be spent on animals at the fair.

    o Sani Idrissa of Oxfam's local partner AREN says: "The rains have meant there is more grass, but people are too poor to buy more animals. So our goal is to help them rebuild their flocks and in that way rebuild their wealth." o Villager Bawa Abdoulahi says: "It is nice to be able to choose your animals, to pick which ones you think will fit in well with you other ones. I am taking a mix of Balami and Bororo because I want strong animals, but also nice looking ones."


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