Combating hunger: Going beyong the Maputo Declaration

03Jan 2018
The Guardian
Combating hunger: Going beyong the Maputo Declaration

A KEY event among leaders of the African Union as the past year was inching to its end was an inaugural meeting of the Malabo-Montpellier Forum, named after the twin cities of the Equatorial Guinea capital and a French city where an agro-nutritional initiative was launched.

High level decision makers and international development partners were discussing strategies for beating hunger and malnutrition in the continent, on the basis of summations of that meeting at its prelude. The policy makers and fund holders were basically discussing how to improve agricultural productivity, halving poverty and ending hunger under the project.

While it is more helpful to dwell on the specific strategies, it is also positive to look at the design the goals set out and the level at which they can be considered to be realistic, or harmonious one goal and another. For instance improving agricultural productivity is harmonious with both halving poverty and ending dire need for food, or hunger, but there is a problem with 'halving poverty.'  By how much must productivity be raised in agriculture for poverty to be halved? And how far is it possible to end hunger where we still admit that poverty - having less than a dollar a day, in Africa - is widely prevalent? Hunger is tied up with poverty.

 A top official in the Malabo-Montpellier Forum secretariat, Malawi Vice President Saulos Klaus Chilima said that in order for the goal to succeed, ending malnutrition for around 224 million people in Africa at present - accounting for one quarter of the total malnourished people globally, the participants 'must work together.' It means commonly shared goals, and as development cooperation and assistance implies, commonly shared funds for that purpose, and here problems begin to crop up. Is this initiative founded on anything that has not been taken up earlier? If there were drawbacks, is anyone capable of directing leaders to address them?

Perhaps we ought not to think of starting something new before taking stock of what has already been taking place and continues at present, for instance the work of the Africa Green Revolution Alliance (AGRA) headed by former United Nations Secretary General, Dr Kofi Annan. Unlike the simple formula of 'raising agricultural productivity,' the AGRA perspective is clear about the need for a green revolution, and has been working to dynamise the continent towards meeting its technical, policy, funding requirements. Its 'green' aspect is often confused with 'organic,' a diversionary issue that's hindering Africa from progressing.

Within the ambit of what has been taking place recently, perhaps it should be underlined that the Maputo Declaration of 2010 where it was agreed that African countries put around 10 per cent of their annual budgets to agriculture is no longer workable. It was observed mainly in the breach, and since then, both AGRA and now the forum are putting things out in clearer terms, while a number of countries are making the necessary decisions to arrive there. One such aspect is allowing technology to erode bedrock malnutrition.

The key facet for child growth problems and even adult morbidity is poor protein or mineral content in basic foodstuffs, where the tools of modifying this situation are sufficiently accessible but held back by lobbies for biodiversity. Improved seeds not only take care of defects in plants but also in climate, as they come with greater adaptation to short rains and thus faster maturing periods. Issues of changed taste or texture must be left to the market, people buying what they can afford; none left to go hungry for the sake of nature.

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