E Africa conference focuses on future
Rome - The agriculture minister of drought-hit Kenya appealed on Thursday for seeds, irrigation plans and infrastructure to avoid a repetition of famine and food crises in the Horn of Africa "every two years."
Sally Kosgei and other delegates at an emergency conference in Rome voiced what they said was a need to look beyond the starving populations' immediate needs and focus on longer-term solutions for the region.
"It is really very important that the world focus now on how to avoid yet another famine or many more famines," Kosgei told the delegates gathered by the UN agency Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Tens of thousands of people are feared to have died in the famine, caused by war in Somalia and drought in the Horn of Africa - Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia. More than 12 million people in the region need food aid, according to the United Nations.
Kosgei said that meetings with several delegations from all over the world over the past months have left her with the impression that "long-term solutions we have put on the table have not been taken seriously by those we have met".
"They seem to be more focused on what is to be done now, which is important," she said, "but what to do to avoid a repetition of this every two years to us is very crucial".
The Kenyan official called for drought-resistant crops to be spread across the region, small irrigation plans to be implemented to help small scale farmers - 60 percent of all farmers in the area - and infrastructure to allow for quicker transportation of foods across the region.
Long term capacity
Even those who survive the famine may be unable to support themselves or their families, as their animals are dead and their crop prospects dire, officials said.
Opening the second FAO conference on the famine in East Africa in less than a month, the agency's director-general, Jacques Diouf, said that "what we are witnessing now is the unfortunate result of three decades of under-investment in agriculture and rural development."
Given modern technology, resources and expertise, he said, it was "inadmissible" that some 12 million people would be exposed to the risk of starvation. He called for building irrigation systems and providing feed and nutritional supplements to livestock, fertilizers and seeds well into the spring rainy season of 2012.
"We must think not only of saving lives today but helping to build sustainable livelihood in order to avoid future calamity," Diouf said.
The crisis also drives tens of thousands of people each week out of Somalia to neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya. The UN estimates that 2.8 million Somalis alone need food aid.
Penny Lawrence of Oxfam said that "any solutions should focus on building people's long-term capacity to feed themselves in the face of natural conditions such as drought".