COMESA’s food insecurity is the result of a confluence of factors over a long period of time. Droughts, floods, and related natural disasters have been some of the major causes exacerbated by other factors such as conflict, poverty, HIV/AIDS etc. On the one hand, the scientific predictions and predictability of the climate-induced disasters has considerably improved. Yet, on the other hand, the region continues to suffer from the impacts of these events. Despite the very well assembled body of knowledge, and the establishment of early warning systems, the region has been unable to adequately respond to the continued recurrence of droughts, floods, and other extreme events and natural disasters. In addition, poor technologies and low productivity; lack of appropriate inputs, particularly high yielding seed varieties and fertilisers; declining soil fertility; poor agricultural support services; and government policies which have, at most time, not been supportive to the agricultural sector. All these factors have combined to create massive needs that require urgent action at both national and regional levels. Underlying the more visible crisis, are silent crises of child malnutrition and under-education that undermine the future potential of the region most precious resource-its children.
In this regard, it is important to note that a number of countries in the region are experiencing food shortages namely, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Namibia, Sudan, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zambia, Zimbabwe are in need of humanitarian food aid between now and the next year’s harvest. The governments and donors have so far managed to import 9, 700,000 metric tons of food aid since the beginning of 2003 at a total value of more than US$ 5 billion since the beginning of the year to feed more than 50 million peoples and prevent them from starvation and death.
Despite this situation some countries in the region have also recorded surplus in cereal production namely Kenya, and Uganda where production has increased since last year. The weather conditions in these countries will favour more agricultural production for the year 2003 agricultural season. Prospects of crop improvement and management are showing some signs of agricultural production.
It is necessary to note that Uganda has a food surplus of 200,000 metric tons and Kenya has also a food surplus of 150,000 metric tons of cereals.
COMESA Strategy to improve food security situation
In order to address the above mentioned issues of food insecurity, Head of States and Governments mandated COMESA Secretariat to convene the Regional Donor Conference early September, 2003 in order to identify strategies that will minimise the adverse impact of food insecurity shocks arising from natural disasters like droughts and floods as well as from conflicts.
The specific objectives of the conference are to:
- Identify strategies that will mobilise financial resources for use in emergency situations and ensure that the food reaches timely to those in need. e.g. COMESA Food Security Funds;
- Facilitate the design of a regional mechanisms to improve regional food security situation e.g. Regional Strategic Food Reserves; and
- Identify ways of improving the COMESA and its food security to forecast for emergencies and disasters as well as design suitable preparedness plans to mitigate their impact.
Importantly to note that the immediate and long term adverse impact of disasters in worsening food insecurity and poverty was taken into account during the World food Summit in November, 1996 ,Italy at which the Heads of States and Governments made a commitment to” endeavour to prevent and prepared for natural disasters and man made emergencies and to meet transitory and emergency food requirements in ways that encourage recovery, rehabilitation, development and capacity to satisfy future needs”
At the World Food Summit: five years later in June last year, the Heads of States and Governments re-iterated that they will” … strengthen national and international action to prepare for contingencies and emergencies and to improve the effectiveness of emergency actions both through food and non-food based interventions”. They stressed that such actions must be integrated into sustainable development efforts with stakeholders involved to achieved food security, and that they are,” committed to ensuring, through economic development, the use of early warning systems, and emergency assistance, that famine will never again be seen”.