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African Leaders Tackle Continent's Hunger Problems - 2004-07-05

In a sideline seminar to the African Union summit that opens Tuesday in Addis Ababa, several African leaders shared what they are doing to try to stop hunger in their countries, and what still needs to be done.

The Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi told the high-level hunger seminar Monday that chronic food insecurity in his country means that, at any given time, five million Ethiopians need, or depend on, food aid.

He said his government's emergency response programs have, so far, managed to avoid situations, such as the massive famine that struck the country in 1984.

But, said the prime minister, the downside of Ethiopia's emergency interventions is that they have bred food dependence among some of the people in his country.

"Over the years, some of the beneficiaries of food aid have come to count and depend excessively on such handouts," said Mr. Zenawi. "This has seriously undermined their desire and capacity to fend for themselves."

To that end, he said, his government is working on putting in place a productive safety net program, in which resources of the poor are used to improve their food security.

He said his government's priorities include giving peasant farmers access to land, and giving them land tenure, transforming small-scale subsistence farming into small-scale commercial farming and developing rural markets.

The prime minister says that, for his government's plans to succeed, the program needs $500 million over five years. He said his government has allocated $230 million for farmer support in the latest budget.

Mr. Zenawi was one of several African leaders speaking at a seminar held by the Ethiopian government and the United Nations' Millennium Project Task Force on Hunger.

The seminar was meant to discuss hunger in Africa, and come up with ways to deal with the problem. It was held one day before the African Union summit was set to open in Addis Ababa.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the delegates Uganda itself produces enough food to feed its population. But, he said, his country faces a poor food distribution system "Our problem is market for food. This is no market," said Mr. Museveni. "It's a big problem for us. Our problem is always where to sell this food."

President Museveni said other problems with Uganda's food production include failure to use the latest agricultural technology, dependence on rain-fed agriculture, poor storage, insufficient food stocks and land fragmentation, due to many people inheriting smaller and smaller tracks of land.