Horn of Africa: “We want to prevent as many people as possible from depending only on food aid”
Nairobi – Carla Mucavi, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Kenya, emphasizes the urgent need to step up efforts to improve the resilience of rural and pastoral communities in the Horn region Africa where the impact of shocks, including severe drought, will continue to be felt in 2022.
The Horn of Africa has always been vulnerable to climatic shocks and insecurity. What is the situation now?
There are currently around four cumulative shocks that trigger fragility in the Horn of Africa. Conflict, below-average rainfall for the third season in a row, then of course the economic impacts of COVID-19 and other macroeconomic challenges – we have seen prices rise in the region and the Desert Locust crisis which has been a factor. aggravating.
Man-made conflicts are particularly exacerbated in Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan, as people are forced to leave their homes. It is a recurring and growing threat in the region.
Then there are the climatic shocks that have accelerated over the past 20-30 years, both in terms of frequency and magnitude. Right now, we are more concerned about the severe episode of below average precipitation that started a year ago. Since then, we have had three consecutive bad rainy seasons.
A bad rainy season no longer triggers significant impacts on livelihoods. It is the accumulation of seasons that begins to trigger the desperate situation we find ourselves in.
Are these weak rains linked to climate change?
Absoutely. We are seeing more frequent episodes of El Niño and La Niña and alternations of the two. These episodes also tend to be more prolonged.
Which communities in the Horn of Africa are most affected? And why?
According to the FAO Damage and Loss Report 2021, drought affects agriculture almost exclusively; and the most serious manifestation of a drought-related crisis begins with pastoral communities that depend on livestock.
We also know that if there is no feed for the livestock, the malnutrition of children under five increases rapidly. If animals do not have enough food, they cannot produce milk. It’s that simple.
What we also tend to see in Kenya, but not only is the growing conflict emerging over natural resources. Between humans and wildlife but also between communities. It is really the ranchers who are the most affected, but so are the farmers.
How? ‘Or’ What?
Well, here we are talking about the small farmers and agropastoral communities who live on the fringes of arid and semi-arid lands and who cultivate to feed themselves and their families.
If they do not get a minimum harvest, they will suffer during what we call the lean season. The severe manifestation of malnutrition or food insecurity will occur during the March to June season, when people have exhausted the limited food stocks they have. They will have to wait for the next year’s harvest in July to have their own food.
In the meantime, they will probably have to buy food. Unfortunately, we have seen a real increase in the price of food in the market. This is quite alarming as data has shown that in part of the region, prices are even higher than they were during the 2011 famine in Somalia.
How many people are food insecure?
We don’t have a full picture of Ethiopia yet, but when you look at food insecurity trends in the region, the number of people in Kenya and Somalia who are highly food insecure or in crisis. or worse (what we call CPI phase 3 and above), is already on the rise. In Kenya, 1.5 million more people are in need today compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, according to FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, an additional 1.4 million people are in need in Somalia.
We are not starting from zero vulnerable people, these 2.9 million people, plus those in Ethiopia, are added to those who already need them. This will likely only get worse as we enter the pastoral and agro-pastoral lean periods in the first half of 2022.
The UN recently launched a flash appeal on drought in Kenya. How is the humanitarian community reacting to the alarming situation there and in the rest of the region?
For the moment, we are concerned by 3 countries in particular: Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Somalia and Ethiopia are sadly in chronic crisis and both countries have a Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2021. However, both have been significantly underfunded. We are currently working on the 2022 HRPs which will take into account the additional people in need that I mentioned earlier. We need our partners to fund these calls. We’re basically starting with the negative because we haven’t been able to help people in 2021 at the level that was needed.
Kenya is in a slightly different situation. Under normal circumstances, it would be able to absorb these climatic shocks. The repetition of shocks is really what plunges the country into a livelihood crisis.
The humanitarian community, led by OCHA, recently launched a multi-sector, multi-agency appeal. But before that, in August, FAO and the government of Kenya launched a joint appeal.
Since August, we have provided pastoral communities with 32,000 bags of complementary feed for livestock (50 kg each) and animal health items in Kenya, 45 tonnes of range cubes in Somalia and 126 tonnes of multi-nutrient blocks at 1,400 households in Ethiopia. This kept the cattle alive, but it is not enough.
Can you tell us more about FAO’s response? Why is livelihood support so important at a time when people are likely to need food immediately?
We want to prevent as many people as possible from depending only on food aid. While this should be part of the answer, there are a number of things we can do beforehand to save people’s livelihoods and therefore their lives.
We all need to recognize that protecting rural livelihoods is a central part of the immediate emergency humanitarian response to these crises, in addition of course to other life-saving assistance.
We need to make sure their animals stay productive, that is, they produce milk. We have to provide feed or mineral blocks for the cattle. The feed we provide in Kenya, for example, is a special formulation that evidence from agro / pastoralists helps weak animals regain strength in three days. We must also provide water. And we have to make sure the animals are treated. This means deworming, supporting weak animals with multivitamins, and administering vaccines against common animal diseases.
Farmers who experience poor harvests will also have to continue to consume food. They will need cash. We want to prevent them from selling their assets (eg tools) or adopting what we call unsustainable coping strategies, such as reducing the number of meals or preventing their children from going to school.
What are the forecasts for 2022? Will the drought continue?
We know that significantly low rainfall will now lead to an increase in the number of food insecure people in the first half of 2022. It’s a bit early to tell, but our partner FEWS-NET is pointing to a possible bad season. rains. again from March to May.
Why is it so important to act now?
We do not have the luxury of hoping that the next rainy season will be good and somehow start to compensate for the deterioration of the current situation. We must prepare for more and more people to be vulnerable until June 2022.
We are already seeing signs of similar crises in the past, like 2016 and 2019. So, yes, we have to act now.
We are at the stage of mitigating an impact which could be much greater. The shock wave is on. We can and must contain it.