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FAO Issues Mixed Report on Food Security in Africa

The U.N. food agency says most of the increase in world hunger is taking place in central and southern Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organization says war and bad weather are to blame. But the FAO's new food insecurity report also notes improvements in West Africa.

The Food and Agriculture Organization report says the number of undernourished people has tripled in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo since the early 1990s.

In southern Africa, nearly 13 million people need emergency food aid, due to a combination of droughts and floods. In some areas, the FAO says farmers did not gather a crop this year and are eating tree stems to survive.

Speaking from Washington, Charles Riemenschneider, the FAO director in North America, said even when there are pockets of food production, poor infrastructure prevents the needy from being fed.

"One of the problems in Africa, in particular, is rural infrastructure and how do you have the farm-to-market roads and the infrastructure to move produce from one part of Africa to another, or fertilizer," he explained. "Common wisdom here is that to ship a ton of fertilizer from here to Mombasa, is about the same cost as it takes to get from Mombasa to the central part of Kenya for use by farmers." Mombasa is the key port city in southeastern Kenya.

Andrew Marx, the U.S. director for a London-based company called KnowledgeView, said West Africa offers hope for the rest of the continent. His company specializes in helping the developing world with new technology.

He noted that a West African agricultural research center is helping the region increase rice production.

"The West African Rice Development Association has succeeded in crossing local, very hearty rice variety species that exist in West Africa that are tolerant to drought and can withstand a lot of pests that reduce crops with Asian varieties that are much higher yielding," said Mr. Marx. "So this kind of technology holds great promise and has led to major improvements to production of rice in that area."

During the 1990s, Nigeria achieved hunger reduction of more than three million people.

The report also notes that in southern Africa, some countries are refusing genetically-modified food or seeds. Officials there fear genetically-modified seeds will mix with their own crops, shutting down Europe as a potential export market. The European Union has restrictions on imports of genetically-modified food.