So do we have the solution to world hunger, or was the CFS Summit just a big talking shop?

If only all UN Summits were this exciting…

You may have realised that I’ve been at an annual Food Summit, known as the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), in Rome [previous post here].  It’s been a rollercoaster of a week – reaching the highs has taken some definite lows along the way – but overall it’s been great.

No one expected us to come up with a solution to world hunger in a week.  But we have made progress with agreements on several important and often controversial issues.  Over 100 governments, UN agencies, business and civil society, that make up the CFS (get used to the acronym!) have come together on these issues.  There has been a lot of talking, and talking can only ever be the first stage – it must be followed by action, and the CFS must implement what it has agreed.

A really wide range of civil society attendees have been here, from Latin America to Japan and they’ve brought sobering, moving stories of exactly why we’re here – of the impact these issues have on the lives of those living in poverty.  For example I heard a representative of indigenous peoples speak movingly about his friends in Colombia who died to protect their land, whilst land Voluntary Guidelines (see below) were written.

Investing in agriculture responsibly 

We have agreed a way forward to develop principles for responsible investment in agriculture by sovereign countries, investor funds and individuals.  These are not to be confused with World Bank principles of a very similar name, but of a much more damaging nature…  There was a lot of fear amongst civil society that the World Bank principles would be taken as a starting point to develop the principles for the CFS.  However, the intense negotiations before this annual meeting meant that everyone agreed on a consultation to develop separate principles over the next 2 years.  We’re really hopeful that these principles will truly help to guide responsible agricultural investment; investment which represents wild meadow opportunities.

Land tenure for farmers and herders 

Another piece of good news.  Earlier this year, the CFS finally agreed on Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure.  Civil society hopes that this will give smallholder farmers and herders more rights and prevent land grabbing.  They are only voluntary, so I was encouraged to hear that UN member states have committed funding to help national governments implement the guidelines, and practical guides will show exactly what this might look like.

For me, the real icing on the cake was at a side event, hearing a minister from Sierra Leone talk about how his government used the guidelines when signing contracts for land with foreign investors.  This meant really practical steps forward, like the contracts stating that the investors must pay for the water they use to irrigate crops, and that the government needed to monitor water table levels, which the local communities depend upon.  This is a very exciting first step – and reassures me that the Summit is more than a talking shop.  It’s resulting in change on the ground.  More of this please!

Climate change 

Now one final outstanding issue – the impact of climate change on smallholder farmers.  This has been one of the most embittered battles, with negotiations running until 1am some nights.  Civil society has had to give some ground, giving up support for organic and sustainable farming practices (agro-ecology) to avoid climate-smart agriculture being included.  Large agri-businesses have taken a hard stance on the issue of intellectual property rights of seeds and were supported in this by other countries.  No agreement has yet been reached on this – I’ll post an update next week.

As I head home there will be much to think about, and much for civil society to take forwards.  I really was encouraged by the comments from the Sierra Leone Minister.  His remarks gave me confidence (and joy!) that something agreed by the CFS – and only in May this year – can actually be put into practice, and have an impact on food security on the ground.  Provided the principles for responsible agriculture investment go the same way, then I think the CFS will prove beyond doubt it’s not a talking shop and we are well on our way to step up our efforts to reduce hunger together!


How ships could help feed the world…

At the age of 17, I met a woman who was to become one of my best friends.  A Kenyan, from Western Province, she was running an educational NGO in the slums surrounding Nairobi.  Her name is Catherine, and she’s still running this educational NGO over a decade later, though it’s now based in Western Province.  Why am I telling you this?  I’ve found myself thinking of Catherine as I attend a UN food summit in Rome this week [in the photo I’m the out of focus white woman in black!].  When Catherine left Western Province 15 years ago her family – like many others – grew food for the household on their small plot of land.

FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

When Catherine returned to Western Province in 2008 she planned to grow food once more.  But as we chatted she said “Hey!  You know the rains are really not working anymore.  They’re not enough, or they’re at the wrong time – we can’t grow anything!”.  Poor harvests meant that later that year, Catherine and many of the children supported by the NGO found themselves eating only one meal a day, primarily of ‘porridge’.  That was the point when the reality of climate change hit me like a brick in the face.

Here in Rome, governments, businesses and civil society, speaking up for people like Catherine, will discuss the links between climate change and people’s ability to eat, amongst other topics.  We heard last week that 1 in 8 people in the world go hungry.  It’s not something we like to think about in the UK, but the reality is that my friends in Kenya – and many others around the world – are finding it harder and harder to grow enough food and climate change is to blame.

My Kenyan friends are currently adapting.  They’re trying out new crops, they’re trying different ways of using the soil and rearing a variety of animals.  But all of this costs money – for Catherine, and for everyone else who needs help to adapt to a changing climate.  In Britain, we dislike talking about money perhaps more than we dislike thinking about climate change!  But we’re not asking for extra money from governments, or individuals.  We think the money to help farmers adapt to climate change could come from shipping.

Lost?  Bear with me.  Every time you fly on a plane, your ticket price includes a small climate change ‘levy’ in recognition of the carbon emissions it produces.  Ships also produce carbon emissions.  So wouldn’t it make sense for them to pay a levy too? We could raise at least $10 billion if they did.  $10 billion which could then be used to help Catherine, and others like her, adapt to a changing climate.

We’ve got a video animation that explains this idea a lot better than I can here:

And if you’re really keen, you can read my colleague’s briefing paper ‘Hope on the horizon’

Wild meadows and UN Summits

Is it too late in the year to tenuously link blog posts to the Olympics?  Probably, but I’m shamelessly going to do it anyway!

Did you see the ‘Olympic gold meadows’?  10 football pitches worth of traditional British meadows, planted in the heart of the Olympic site.  Those meadows were planted on what was previously a contaminated wasteland.  When the site was opened, I found it incredible that the land had been transformed like this in just a few years.  Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without carefully planned investment – a mix of public and private money.

I’ve been thinking a lot about investment recently – and especially about investment in land and farming.  All businesses need access to capital, loan facilities and other forms of investment to expand, and farmers are no exception.  In fact, farming is perhaps more dependent on this than some other businesses as farming is done at the mercy of the weather and 1000 other factors which are beyond control.  I grew up in Devon, and I well remember the devastation of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak.  Farms, livelihoods and businesses were utterly destroyed and many farmers would have been unable to recover without subsequent investment.

Farmers in developing countries are no different.  They need to be able to access investment which helps grow their businesses in the good times, and sees them through the bad times.  Unfortunately, that’s not always been the kind of investment they’ve been able to get.  Some investment has actually taken land away from farmers, or prevented them from accessing the seeds they need, or locked them into a type of farming which is heavily dependent on expensive fertilisers.  Sometimes this has happened because of ignorance, but sometimes it has happened because investors have looked for a quick profit rather than a ‘wild-meadow opportunity’.

On Friday I’ll be heading to a UN Summit on Food – or, the “39th Session of the Committee on World Food Security”.  Quite.  Governments, investors, farmers, NGOs and UN agencies will come together to discuss Responsible Agricultural Investment, amongst other things.  Tearfund wants to see a few things included in the discussions.  We want to see investment that focuses on smallholder farmers, who need it most.  Investment that opens up farmers’ choices and power – instead of closing them down.  And investment that helps farmers adapt to the impact of climate change – so that they’re at the mercy of the changing elements just a little bit less.

Here’s hoping for progress towards these things at the Summit – I’ll report back afterwards…

Going for Gold in the Race Against Hunger

This blog was first published on Huffington Post here

It’s been a very exciting and emotional two weeks cheering on the Olympians, but the highlight for me was Cameron leaving a legacy of London 2012 beyond even our exceptional haul of medals by hosting a global hunger event bringing together sportspeople and senior politicians from Brazil, Kenya, Bangladesh and India. When he could have been celebrating his twin gold medals elsewhere, instead the Somalia-born Mo Farah was running up a temporary race track outside Number 10 Downing Street to angle his spotlight towards global hunger.

Cameron and Mo Farah

It may be the end of the Olympics, but the UK has blown the starting whistle on efforts to tackle hunger over the next year. This is a significant achievement by the UK government, announcing new political commitments on hunger. Tearfund, and many others, will of course be urging the UK government to continue to show global leadership by putting hunger high on the G8 agenda in 2013, to take concrete action that will change people’s lives for good. Ireland too will add momentum by using its EU presidency to urge action on hunger and on climate change.

“Inspire a generation” has been the Olympic motto. We can truly be proud of London 2012 if it leaves a legacy of political commitment to accelerate and intensify the fight against hunger, which will see a generation not only inspired but more able to realise fully their potential. By the time the first note of the Olympics’ 2016 opening ceremony sounds in Rio, we expect to have made real progress in reducing the number of under-fives whose growth is stunted – currently 25 million.

Serguem Silva, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Brazil, told methat world leaders should follow Brazil’s example of championing hunger at the highest political level which has brought success in reducing malnutrition. And so, as the UK passes on the baton to Brazil for the Olympic games, every single one of us is on the same team in the race against hunger.

The challenge of malnutrition and stunting isn’t only about nutritious food. We need to tackle the causes of food insecurity as a whole. Malnutrition and food crises in both East and West Africa, as well as other world regions, are warning signs of a broken food system in our world. World leaders, civil society and businesses can prevent food crises by investing in small scale farmers (particularly female farmers, who are so often overlooked), improving their access to markets, helping them to adapt to climate change and high food prices, tackling land use and rights, and changing production and consumption patterns to reduce pressure on scarce natural resources. Preventing 25m children from being stunted is a superb start and it’s my hope and prayer that it will kick off the work necessary to help the 1 billion people who go hungry every night.

Matthew Frost, CEO of Tearfund

Supporting smallholders in securing global food security

This is a guest blog (originally posted here, also seen on Huffington Post) by Jeremy Lefroy, Conservative MP for Stafford and a member of the International Development Select Committee. From 1989 to 2000, he and his family lived in Tanzania where he worked in the coffee industry. Upon returning to the UK, he continued work assisting smallholder farmers in East Africa and founded Equity for Africa which provides equity-type funding for small businesses. Jeremy recently visited Tearfund’s work with partners in Rwanda and guest blogs here in a personal capacity.

This weekend, as London 2012 draws to a close, David Cameron will be chairing a conference at Downing Street about tackling malnutrition among the world’s poorest children.

I hope that this meeting is the start of a concerted effort by the UK – which holds the G8 Presidency in 2013 – to encourage the world to take hunger and malnutrition seriously.

Mo Farah, British 10000m gold medal winner, will attend the Hunger Summit at No.10 on Sunday 12 August

At least one billion people suffer from chronic hunger, more than at any other time in history; and food security for much of the rest of the world is increasingly fragile. The International Grain Council estimates that globally, we currently have enough grain to feed the global population for 72.4 days. This figure is expected to fall to 66.9 by 2013 and decrease further in subsequent years.

The world’s population, currently just over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. Food production needs to rise to meet basic needs, let alone the consequences of changing diets.

The 500 million small farms (less than 2 hectares)  in developing countries, where farmers and their families work their own land supporting some 2 billion people, will play a vital role. They have often been thought of as inefficient when compared with larger estates.

With the right support, that is not the case. When smallholder farmers have access to technical advice, inputs, and technologies, including high-yielding seeds, affordable fertilizer, and irrigation, they can be as efficient as much larger farms, sometimes more so.

I have been working with smallholder farmers in various ways for the past 25 years. Official development organisations largely ignored them in the 1980s and 1990s. In the UK, it was NGOs such as Tearfund, Oxfam, Cafod, TWIN, Christian Aid and Equal Exchange which supported them and showed how important they are to the global economy and food security. The cooperative and fair trade movements brought their work to greater prominence in the UK, now the largest fair trade market in the world. Just as important has been the contribution of many private sector companies that worked have alongside smallholder farmers year in, year out.

I am glad to say that governments are now recognising the importance of smallholders. Even so, recognition is one thing. What is needed is action. Below I set out some action which could be taken – indeed which is being taken in some countries.

Land title

For smallholder farmers, security of title is vital. Without it, land is at risk to land grabs – sadly increasingly common – and local disputes. In Rwanda last year, with the International Development Committee of the House of Commons (IDC), I saw how a nationwide land registration scheme supported by DFID is working in villages.  By 2015, at least 6.4 million people will have title deeds to their land. As well as meaning that land cannot be sold without the consent of the owner, farmers can use land as collateral to borrow to invest and raise productivity.

Nutrition, crop diversity and pooling of land

From 2007 to 2008, during the last food price crisis, the number of undernourished people in the world rose by 40 million to a total of 963 million and has continued to rise since. Crop diversity – grains, fruits, vegetables and cash crops – is important for food security, nutrition and incomes which is why farmers tend to plant many different crops on even the smallest of plots.

An advantage of secure land title is that plots can be pooled while retaining individual ownership.  If land is pooled, instead of each family allocating small areas to every crop, larger areas can be planted in the most suitable sites within the pooled area.

A scheme along these lines is being implemented, also in Rwanda – the Land Use Consolidation farming model to improve land management and agricultural productivity while maintaining crop diversity. Farmers in a given area grow the priority food crops in a synchronized fashion while keeping their land rights intact. Consolidation is voluntary, but it is a prerequisite for gaining the benefits such as subsidized inputs under Crop Intensification Program (CIP).  Since its introduction in 2008, the consolidated production of priority crops under CIP has brought significant increases in food production.


Too little attention has been given to water usage and security, despite the warnings that access to water is likely to be one of the major sources of conflict in the coming decades. Agriculture is estimated to use 70 per cent of the world’s available freshwater. With the water needs of the world’s increasing population, it will need to use water much more efficiently than at present.

Rainwater harvesting, using earth dams or from roofs; drip irrigation for smallholders; growing under polytunnels; recycling of water used in crop processing – all this can be done with relatively small investment. Yet funding for all these, whether from commercial or subsidised sources, is too little despite the clear short- and long-term returns.

In Chiansi, Zambia, the IDC saw how major irrigation schemes could be developed for the benefit of larger farms and smallholders alike. One farmer told me how he was already earning two hundred dollars a month from the crops produced on his smallholding using the irrigation infrastructure from the larger project. I believe that close cooperation between large and small farms in the same area has great benefits, not just for shared irrigation but also processing and marketing. It also brings greater social cohesion.

Storage, rural roads and value-added processing

Proper storage facilities are one of the most effective ways of improving food security. In June, with the IDC I visited Bamyan province in Afghanistan. There about half of the potatoes grown either go to waste or are sold very cheaply at harvest time because they cannot be stored properly. The US Agency for International Development helped to build 50 potato storage facilities in the province in 2008. This is a start but this is sufficient for just 2% of annual production.

In DR Congo, I and my colleagues on the IDC saw the difference a reasonable road, with DFID funding, could make to farmers. A journey of 80 kms, which had taken 5 days, was cut to 2-3 hours, reducing transport costs and meaning that fresh produce was much less likely to go to waste.

Food processing is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, yet it is undervalued in many developing countries. In Afghanistan, crops are sent to neighbouring countries and then returned, processed and packaged. If this value were to be added in Afghanistan, it would bring jobs, income and tax revenues there. Processing factories would also give farmers another market for their produce.

Research and extension services

Research and extension services have often been neglected in recent years. This is partly because they are easy targets for government cutbacks and partly because of the reduced importance of state marketing boards, which often collected a levy on the sale of crops to finance research and extension.

But here there is a clear role for public private partnerships. Responsible private investors recognise the importance of ‘common goods’ such as research and agricultural extension services. By financing efficient and locally run research stations they can make an invaluable contribution to the continued growth of the industry. A good example is in Tanzania where tea research is now done by the Tea Research Institute of Tanzania (TRIT) (an industry-run and financed institute) which has acquired an excellent reputation. There is no reason why the same model could not be used for extension services.

Supporting smallholders

Smallholder farmers are essential partners in achieving food security and reducing malnutrition and poverty. They need long-term commitment both from their own governments and the international community. This is not just a question of aid. Smallholder farmers are businesswomen and businessmen who need access to finance, fair and efficient markets and reliable infrastructure.

I look forward to the UK using its presidency of the G8 to championing the role of smallholder farmers globally and ensuring that their voice is heard and their contribution recognised.

Declarations of interest: Jeremy Lefroy MP is a member of the IDC; director and trustee (UNAid) of TWIN; has been involved in businesses working with smallholder farmers in Africa and South America since 1986.

Sustainable consumption?

22 June, Rio Centro

It’s the final day of the Rio+20 summit and today it feels that everything is fizzling out a bit with heads of state, ministers and in some cases just the civil servant heading the delegation making their countries’ plenary speeches. No-one is expecting fireworks in the final plenary when countries will finally decide whether to adopt the text and sitting here in the media centre there is a real sense that journalists here are not sure what the story for today is… On the other hand there have been plenty of fireworks most nights coming from the favelas on the hills above where I have been staying these past two weeks.

Many of those still here not in the plenary room or media centre seem to be using the enormous food court as a base for the day – where at least the super-strength and excellent Brazilian coffee is keeping some very weary people going. So after drinking several large espressos myself I took some pictures of the various food and other businesses here in the conference centre all keen to stress their sustainable credentials and here they are below. From the top they are of a major supermarket chain, a national government owned savings bank, Coca Cola and a major Brazilian energy supplier. The UK and many other governments have rightly stressed the importance of involving businesses and the private sector in discussions on sustainability.

In his speech to the plenary here Nick Clegg said: “we need to involve businesses more. Government cannot do this alone. There is increasing recognition among major companies that using resources sustainably is in their own interests. That is why it is so important that Rio has recognised the role of business sustainability reporting. There is a market demand for this. Companies have been asking for it, investors need to know, consumers want to make informed decisions, and this should eventually lead to a global framework.”

However some would say that in seeking to involve businesses much more and get them on board governments have allowed them to have much more influence on the final text than NGOs were able to have here in Rio….

Rain in Rio

20 June, Rio Centro, Rio+20 summit

It is raining heavily here in Rio on the first day of the Rio+20 summit – and for the first time in the 10 days since I arrived. The current official text is almost devoid of ambition and does not show even the hoped for progress in some areas such as fossil fuel subsidies and sustainable development goals. So perhaps the weather today with the arrival of leaders from more than 100 countries is a perfect example of pathetic fallacy where in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the madding crowd’ you knew something bad was going to happen to Gabriel Oak or Bathsheba Everdene because there would be a storm brewing and heavy rain would begin to fall!

However if you were a farmer in Ceará or Pernambuco or anywhere in northeast Brazil where there is currently the worst drought in 50 years and where 57% of the land is in drought conditions you would be looking to the sky for rain bearing clouds and would be overjoyed to experience the heavy rain falling here in Rio.

So is the rain a sign of something bad or something good about to happen in Rio? Civil society here is generally furious about the current text – and to mix up the metaphor – want world leaders to raise a storm to improve the current text. But will they? Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General was honest in his assessment today as you can see in the photo above – where in his speech to leaders he lamented the lack of ambition in the current text and after a strong push from civil society today seems to indicate that it would still be possible to revisit the text currently seen as agreed by countries.

Ministers and leaders have mostly given no indication that they are keen to negotiate further on the text – some feeling that just having international agreement of the current text between all countries on environment and development is a good result and also fearing that to open up the text may lead to it being further weakened… If heads of state are not going to try to make the text better here in Rio then what on earth are they going to do? Well Rio certainly has plenty of attractions – Corcovado, Pao de Acucar, Copacabana, Ipanema – to name just a few – but I suspect that in these times of economic crisis spending three days sightseeing would not go down well with their electorates – or at least it shouldn’t.

So what are our leaders going to do in Rio? – the next 72 hours are vital.

Vai acabar em pizza?!

I am here in Brazil for the Rio+20 summit with a group of inspiring organisations that Tearfund works with in Brazil. It has been great getting their perspectives on the discussions and joining with them in some fantastic side events at the Cupola dos Povos (more later on these).

As well as everything else that Brazil is well known for, graffiti, both good and bad, also seems to be everywhere in Rio and is even taught in some schools. The photos below are of political graffiti just round the corner from where I am staying here in Rio for the two weeks of the summit, Cupula dos Povos and other events.

The graffiti is to highlight a Brazilian expression for the way of political discussions – vai acabar em Pizza (it will all end up in pizza). In Brazilian politics discussions are often not as they generally are in the UN  where countries disagree vehemently with each other but in a very quiet and measured way – as they did in the final prepcom ahead of Rio+20 leading to a very long text only 28% agreed after 3 long days.

In contrast, in Brazilian politics there is often a really big fight in Parliament, accusations flying, loads of media interest… but then sometimes nothing happens as people perceive that the politicians are all friends really and would all much rather go for a pizza together at the end.  So with discussions on the Rio+20 text now in the hands of our Brazilian government hosts there is still the opportunity for a high ambition outcome on new sustainable development goals, ending fossil fuel subsidies – or we may well have an outcome that has made little progress and which has wasted the opportunity presented by this summit 20 years on from the ground breaking Earth Summit here in 1992. So will it all end up in pizza here? – we have only a few days to ensure this summit doesn’t…

Zambia Notes: food and farming in a changing climate

“We are heavily affected by climate change. While you can see the food here,  we still have a big challenge in terms of food shortages – that is the problem.”

“Climate change has really troubled us. The way we are being taught conservation farming gives us a way that we can address this problem because we can keep the moisture, even if there is no rain. We give you thanks through the support you are giving to EFZ as we are benefiting from the lessons.”

Volunteers in the EFZ / Tearfund DRR programme, Mumbwa, Zambia 

Last week I travelled to  Zambia with two UK Members of Parliament, Gavin Shuker MP and Tony Cunningham MP, to explore  some of the barriers that are keeping people in poverty there and to visit projects run by two Tearfund partners – EFZ (Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia) and BICC (Brethren in Christ Church).

Learning about food conservation in Mumbwa

Learning about food conservation in Mumbwa

The links between climate change and food security were really brought home to us as we listened to volunteers and people benefiting from a food security / Disaster Risk Reduction programme being run through EFZ (Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia) in Mumbwa, located in Zambia’s Central Province. Having left the relative comfort of Lusaka, we travelled up to Mumbwa and saw the environment around us quickly change. Zambia is experiencing significant economic growth and has now been classified as a lower middle-income country by the World Bank; yet the disparities are clear and Zambia continues to score low on the Human Development Index (164 out of 179). In rural areas, the challenge of climate change is particularly acute and is impacting significantly on food security – one of the reasons why Zambia still comes so low on the human development index. This year the rains have been fairly scant and with the prospect of no rain at all between May and November, food conservation is critical, especially for those within communities, such as the elderly or those living with HIV, who are particularly vulnerable to food shortages and poor nutrition.

EFZ, with the support of Tearfund, are implementing a DRR project in Mumbwa which provides vulnerable households with primary farming inputs and training so that they can grow their own food. 220 households have benefited from the programme which has mobilised 50 volunteers through church networks to offer support and training. We had the privilege to speak with a number of the volunteers who talked about the different methods they use to preserve foods such as maize and papaya during the dry season. We also visited the house of Sophia, a project beneficiary who is 64 years old and heading up a household of 10, including 4 orphans. She has been implementing food conservation techniques and is growing a number of crops including cotton and bananas.

She was immensely inspiring to meet and her determination and pride shone through. As the Programme Director of EFZ remarked to me, this kind of response to climate change and food shortages is so much better than hand-outs. This approach gives people the skills and training they need, reduces their dependency on food aid and in some circumstances, beneficiaries such as Sophia are also able to generate an income by selling produce at local markets, income which can then be used to support their wider family, for example being able to pay school fees or buy text books.

There is certainly hope in Mumbwa, but also a stark challenge for the global community. Zambia’s vulnerability to climate change is high and the prospect of increased drought in some regions and increased flooding in others is likely to hamper development efforts in other areas such as health. I hope that donors will see the value in financing innovative adaptation projects at the grass-roots like the one which we saw run by EFZ, but we must also remember that without immediate action to drive down global emissions, the impacts of climate change in Mumbwa could be much more severe.

‘Hunger game’ a present-day reality for some

Original post on Reuters Alertnet is here.

I was very excited to watch an advanced screening of The Hunger Games last night after all the hype – such an interesting premise.

The book and film are set in the future in what is left of North America after an unexplained apocalypse.

People in districts around its capital are starving and dying, children skipping school to find food and become head of families when their parents cannot care for them.

I wish that it were pure fiction for our entertainment, but it’s happening today in countries like Mali, where 3 million people are affected, in the Sahel region of West Africa.

Hunger is no game for Ama Tessougue, 40, with 12 children, living in Erdiana village, Dogon country.  “If my crops fail, we are vulnerable to getting sick. My one hope is in my crops. If they don’t produce a harvest I am poor.”

A government assessment found that almost 80 percent of people produced virtually nothing from their harvest.  The hunger gap started months earlier than usual in Mopti, in February in some areas and it will get worse in the coming months.

Herders in the Timbuktu area have been selling their precious livestock and can’t find food on the market or it’s too expensive, over double the normal price.

To make matters worse and as I write this blog, one of the Directors of an organization that we partner with in Mali, can hear gunfire from his house.  Rumours have been flying around about where the President might be located.

Staff in Mopti are waiting for information from Bamako to clarify the situation in the next few days.  How can they continue serving a food insecure population amidst such instability and uncertainty as well as a curfew?

The conflict that kicked off in January has exacerbated the food security situation, with a widespread sense of anger at an insufficient response by the government, as seen by people protesting in Gao. Over 100,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and a further 95,000 are internally displaced within Mali.

If the heroine in the Hunger Games is an 18 year old Katniss, who risks her own life to feed her sister and mother, then my heroine, battling in the real world of hunger, is Madame Poudiougou Kadidia Baro, who I’ve met several times in Bamako, Mali.

She runs an organisation that is responding to the food crisis, running grain banks, providing wells, sanitation, and training in sustainable agriculture.  To top it all, this weekend, she was supposed to celebrate her daughter’s wedding in the capital of Mali, but she isn’t sure if it will be postponed because of the conflict.
Conflict is one of the factors depicted in this new infographic (don’t click on the screen grab on the right), inspired by the arena from the Hunger Games.  It shows why hunger still persists in the Sahel and all over the world in our day and age, despite there being enough food for everyone.

Some 1 billion people are trying to make a living, whilst battling against climate change, high food and energy prices, conflict, inequality, trade barriers, land grabbing, and historically a minuscule investment in agriculture.

Chad too is affected by the Sahel food crisis.  Fana Ali Younous, 35, looks after 3 children and 2 elderly people in Am Charma village, Oum-Hadjer.  “We harvested only 50 kg of cereal. My husband left home three months ago for another town that I don’t know.  To survive, I go to the bush to find necessary materials to plait mats and baskets to sell at the market.

I use the income to buy food for the family. But sometimes, I return home with empty hands and we have to go to sleep with only porridge [in our stomachs]. As we are many at home, I can’t fully satisfy our food needs and my children have started to loose weight. Since my husband left home, he hasn’t sent anything to us. The situation is difficult for me.  I only rely on God who can provide our needs, if not my children will die.’’

It’s over a month since a high level emergency meeting was convened in Rome that warned that 10 million people were at risk in the Sahel.  Now the number has jumped to over 13 million. Donors can’t wait to act until we see starving children on our TV screens, as if it were the televised Hunger Games.  Longer term, we need strategies to prevent predictable food crises.

All governments need to step up tackling the root causes of hunger: climate change, high food and energy prices, conflict, inequality, trade barriers, land grabbing, low investment in agriculture and other factors.  Then we can end the real hunger games once and for all.