More than $138 million in emergency funding is needed to help 1.5 million vulnerable people in rural communities in the Horn of Africa whose fields and pastures have been badly affected by a prolonged drought, said today the United Nations food and agriculture Organization (FAO), publishing a comprehensive response plan calling for a series of agricultural support measures in the region.
In a region already prone to food insecurity associated with extreme weather conditions, natural resource limitations and conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020-2021 locust invasion have strained the capacities of adaptation of rural communities, undermining agricultural productivity.
Today, a third season drought caused by La Nina fears that a large-scale hunger crisis erupted when producing rural communities the region's food did not receive adequate assistance depending on the needs of the next agricultural seasons.
In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the most affected countries, projections indicate that some 25.3 million people will face high acute food insecurity by mid-2022 – should this scenario materialize, this would place the Horn of Africa among the most significant food crises in the world.
The importance of supporting rural livelihoods
FAO's Horn of Africa Drought Response Plan provides more than $138 million to help rural communities resist this latest threat – including $130 million by the end of this month. February to provide urgent assistance to highly vulnerable and agriculture-dependent communities in the three most affected countries.
“We know from experience that supporting agriculture in times like this has a huge impact – only when we act quickly and at the right time to provide water, seeds, animal feed, veterinary care and cash to rural families at risk, hunger disasters can be averted,” said FAO Director for Emergencies and Resilience, Rein Paulsen.
“Well, the right time is now. We urgently need to support pastoralists and farms in the Horn of Africa, immediately, because the cycle of seasons waits for no one,” he added.
In 2011, a severe drought has contributed to an outbreak of famine in Somalia which has seen 260,000 people die of hunger - most of them before a formal declaration of famine is made.
In 2017, however, potential famines associated with drought in four countries in the Greater Horn of Africa region were averted thanks to a concerted international campaign to act quickly and which prioritized helping rural communities cope with stresses before they escalate into food crises.
The clock is already ticking, warned Paulsen. The lean season that has just begun is marked by limited grazing opportunities for pastoral families, and their livestock will need nutritional and veterinary support. Crop-dependent families, on the other hand, need to have seeds and other supplies on hand to get started when Gu's main planting season begins in March.
FAO Action Plan
FAO's drought response plan aims to support 1.5 million of the most at-risk rural populations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
For pastoral families, this would include providing animal feed and nutritional supplements and mobile veterinary health clinics to keep their livestock healthy and produce milk, transporting water to water reservoirs 10,000 liter collapsible wells installed in remote areas and retrofitting existing wells to run on solar energy.
For crop-dependent families, FAO aims to distribute seeds of protein-rich varieties of sorghum, maize, cowpea, mung beans and nutrient-dense, early-maturing, drought-tolerant vegetables, and to organize pre-planting services and access to irrigation as well as training on good agricultural practices.
Cash-for-work programs would allow able-bodied households to earn additional income by helping to rehabilitate agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation canals or boreholes. Families unable to work for health or other reasons would receive unconditional cash injections. Providing rural families with additional disposable income gives them the means to buy food at the market while they wait for their crops to arrive.
In Somalia, the FAO plan calls for the provision of boats, equipment and training to help coastal communities that do not normally practice fishing find a new source of much-needed calories and protein, relying on the ongoing work of FAO to promote diversification of livelihoods in the country.
If fully funded, the agency's plan would see the production of up to 90 million liters of milk and up to 40,000 tonnes of staple food crops in the first part of 2022, putting more 1 million highly food insecure people on a secure basis for at least six months.
By enabling people to stay at home, productive and preserve their livelihoods, while building their resilience, FAO's intervention would lay the foundations for long-term stability and food security.
“For years, we have seen the same cycles of vulnerability and stress undermine agricultural productivity in rural communities in the Horn of Africa. It is time to invest more in addressing the drivers of hunger and building the capacity of people to continue producing even when hit by shocks like drought, so that inevitable shocks do not inevitably turn into in humanitarian crises," said Chimimba David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa (SFE) and Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.