Roger Thurow is right: Nobody should have to die from hunger. I applaud One Acre Fund and its mission to eliminate the “hungry season” for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and to “attack hunger through agricultural development rather than food aid.”
But it’s not just smallholder farmers of food crops who are struggling to stay alive in Africa. In 2011, the worst drought in 60 years triggered a hunger crisis in East Africa that impacted 13 million people and left an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 dead. The United Nations estimated the cost of the humanitarian response at $1.5 billion. That crisis happened not in the agricultural regions of Sub-Saharan Africa but in the dryland regions of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
Marginalization, the lack of infrastructure investments and the sub-standard provision of basic services like health care and education have all contributed to this growing crisis. But these regions share a number of other things in common. As the climate changes, we are seeing an alarming rise in extreme poverty, hunger and armed violence. Drought is disrupting the traditional livestock industry and clashes between ethnic groups over increasingly scarce natural resources are rising.
The solution for avoiding hunger crises in the drylands of Africa, from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel and western regions of the continent, lies in enhancing the resilience of pastoral livestock communities. The focus should be on building infrastructure investments and diversifying livelihoods, especially for women and their dependent children who are particularly hard hit when they are left with no means of support as men travel with herds for months in search of ever-more-elusive pasture. Most are forced to rely on humanitarian food aid, a short-term solution that saves lives but reinforces the cycle of poverty and dependency in the African drylands.
Long-term solutions are desperately needed. Our organization, The BOMA Project, works to identify the most vulnerable women in dryland, pastoral communities and graduate them out of extreme poverty by putting them through a two-year program of training and mentoring that addresses low incomes, inconsistent cash flows and inadequate financial instruments that are characteristic of the rural poor who have no access to traditional financial services like banks and cell phones. By helping them to start small, sustainable businesses in their villages, we move women out of extreme poverty, from beggars to lenders, so that they have increased assets, a committed savings income, usefully large sums of money for bigger expenditures like healthcare and education for their children, and most importantly, the ability to survive shocks like extreme droughts.
The remote drylands of Africa are not easy to work in. Most are lawless regions with no police or military presence; pastoralists are forced to be armed in order to protect their assets. But 40 percent of Africa is classified as arid or semi-arid. These regions capture headlines and are portrayed by the media as a disaster in cycles that generate high-profile short-term solutions.
We don’t see it that way. We see communities of pastoralists who have been adapting for centuries. Our women entrepreneurs enjoy the support of pastoralist men who face the daily challenges of providing for their families in an increasingly devastating cycle of droughts. We see success every day: 97 percent of the businesses we launch are still in operation at three years.
The international community needs to focus on solutions for the drylands of Africa so that hunger doesn’t exist and aid is no longer needed. That, in the end, is the only sustainable solution.
To see “The Hunger Season” post in SSIR: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_last_hunger_season