As Drought Sacks 2 Million People in Somalia, FAO Harps on How to End Hunger, Malnutrition

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Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for Programmes, Daniel Gustafson, on Wednesday said that eradicating hunger and malnutrition and achieving sustainable development requires strengthened global partnerships and sustainable investments to drive economic growth.

He was speaking as a disastrous drought in Somalia is leaving some 2.2 million people – nearly 18 percent of the population – with severe hunger during the July-September period.

FAO has already issued a special alert on Somalia, indicating that the number of hungry people in the country this year is expected to be 40 percent higher than estimates made at the beginning of 2019.

A deteriorating nutritional status is also of major concern, according to the alert. Acute malnutrition rates as well as the number of acutely malnourished children being admitted to therapeutic feeding centres have sharply increased in 2019.

“Rains in April and early May can make or break Somalis’ food security for the whole year as they are crucial for the country’s main annual harvest in July, following the “Gu” rainy season,” said Mario Zappacosta, FAO Senior Economist and lead of the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

“A significant lack of rains in April and early May has rendered dry and barren up to 85 percent of the croplands in the country’s breadbaskets, and according to the latest projections, food grown during the “Gu” season is likely to be 50 percent below average,” he added.

The latest projection is based on data gathered by FAO experts – including sophisticated analyses of rainfall, temperatures, water availability and vegetation health – that point to the worse drought in years. Some rains are expected in May, but these will be insufficient and arrive too late for crop and pasture recovery before the onset of the dry season.

For example, in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, which produces more than 60 percent of maize grown during the “Gu” season, severe dryness has prevailed so far, with only some scattered, below-average rains occurring in late April and early May.

Drought conditions also affected other major crop producing areas, including the Bay region’s “sorghum belt”, which accounts for more than half of the country’s sorghum production during the “Gu” season, and the “cowpea belt” in Middle Shabelle, Mudug and Galgaduud regions.

Poor rains since last October have also taken a heavy toll on herders and their livestock as vegetation has been drying up and water has been increasingly scarce.

The FAO alert warns of a worrying number of animals in very poor health conditions – due to low body weight and drought-induced diseases – in the country’s central and northern regions.

“Herders in the worst drought-affected areas – such as central Galgaduud and in northern Bari and Sanaag regions – have been forced to slaughter the offspring of their goats and sheep as they don’t have enough fodder and water for all their animals, and try to save the milk-producing female livestock,” said FAO Somalia Representative Serge Tissot.

“Many herders have not been able to replace livestock lost during the 2017 drought that ravaged the country, so they already have less resources. Now, on top of that, as food and water become scarcer, they have to pay higher prices for trucked-in water and their daily food,” added Tissot.

Drought and early depletion of food stocks, compounded by declining employment opportunities and low wages for farmers, shortages of livestock products in pastoral areas as well as both heightened conflict and a reduction of humanitarian assistance since early 2019 have all led to a sharp deterioration of the food security situation in the country.

FAO is scaling up its response to prevent an already alarming humanitarian situation from getting even worse. For this, FAO urgently needs more funds as it aims to support 2 million drought-affected people this year by providing critical livelihood support such as cash assistance, quality seeds, tools, and other agricultural services so farmers can make the most of the next planting season.

To protect their remaining livestock, herders require vital support such as water and supplementary feed. Countrywide animal health campaigns must also be rolled out quickly – starting with emergency livestock treatments to keep animals alive, healthy and productive.

Currently, FAO has a funding gap of about $115 million in Somalia.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires more resources than the ones that have been currently made available, but moving towards more sustainable food systems also provides enormous opportunities for profitable new investments, he told participants gathered at the opening ceremony in Rome of EXCO2019, an international development cooperation fair. This year the event focuses  on job creation and innovation for sustainable development.

“Countries need to attract additional public and private finance through sustainable investments to drive economic growth as a basis for poverty reduction,” Gustafson stressed.

This is in line with the commitment made by the international community to SDG 17, which calls for strengthening global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, bringing together national governments, the international community, civil society and the private sector.

“The overwhelming amount of investment in agriculture comes from farmers. Farmers and their decisions and ability to invest must be central to any strategy aimed at expanding investment in the sector,” Gustafson said. “There are more than 570 million farms in the world, of which more than 90 percent are run by an individual or a family and rely primarily on family labor. However, small-scale agriculture, especially in rain-fed areas, is a high-risk and low-return activity that does not easily attract private investment,” he added.

Gustafson noted that innovation is needed throughout the food systems and, equally important, investment in innovation in the food system can pay off very well in job creation, when considering the complete value chain, from production to the final consumer.

At the same time, he said, business opportunities in the implementation of the SDGs related to food, looking at the value chain, could be worth $ 2.3 trillion for the private sector by 2030.

This is why FAO supports the creation of enabling environments to foster SDG-compliant investments through the CFS Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS-RAI), which provide guidance to ensure investment in agriculture and food systems benefits local food security and workers’ rights
FAO, strongly committed to working in partnership with all actors, including the private sector.

Over the last eight years, FAO has partnered with over 150 actors from the private sector, civil society, research and academic institutions and foundations, resulting in a substantial improvement of the work of the Organization in the field and confirming its technical expertise.

Furthermore, FAO’s resource partners provide both financial support and information exchange in the framework of the newly revamped Office for South-South and Triangular Cooperation.

Given the pivotal role played by FAO in the fields of agricultural innovation, standards for food safety, sustainability and rural development, the Organisation has an active role in EXCO2019.

Several high-level FAO experts are scheduled to participate at the event, which will touch upon climate change, biodiversity, sustainable water management, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, financing for sustainable development, innovative ideas in agribusiness, and preventing food losses and reducing food waste, among others.

FAO is coordinating its participation in close collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

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