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Eritrea President Strives for Self-Sufficiency in Food Security


Eritrea's presidential spokesman says his country is pursuing a long-term food security strategy that largely shuns foreign food aid as a way of making the country self-sufficient. His comments follow a meeting between President Isaias Afwerki and a United Nations special humanitarian envoy touring the drought-stricken region.

Spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel tells VOA that discussions between President Isaias and Kjell Magne Bondevik, the United Nations' special envoy for the Horn of Africa, included Eritrea's views on foreign food aid.

"While international efforts can be funded addressing current shortages, if this is not related to longer-term strategy, if it's not going to enhance the government's efforts to attain sustainable food security, then it would only create a culture of dependency," he said. "I think there was general agreement in broad terms of the linkage, the continuing between interventionist measures to address current problems and [a] long-term strategic approach to attain food security."

Bondevik visited Eritrea Wednesday at the beginning of his five-nation tour to investigate drought and food availability conditions in the Horn of Africa.

The Eritrean government has come under fire from the international aid community, which says that up to 100,000 tons of food aid is rotting in storage, because of Eritrea's decision last year to stop free food distributions for most recipients.

The French news agency AFP quoted Bondevik as saying that President Isaias had told him that the food aid had been "integrated" into the country's food security program.

In a statement, Bondevik said the president also indicated his willingness to renew dialogue with the international donor community.

Last month, at least three aid agencies received letters from the Eritrean government directing the agencies to terminate their work in the country.

Yemane says international aid agencies need to fit into the government's long-term food security plan, which he describes to VOA.

"It has basically to do with mobilizing domestic resources primarily but also international assistance to look at water conservation strategies, improving the agricultural or the farming methods, trying to modernize traditional agricultural farming techniques," he added.

Eritrea is suffering from a regional drought and serious food shortages. According to the regional body Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, two-thirds of Eritrea's 3.6 million people are food insecure.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed Bondevik as special humanitarian envoy in February in response to the recurring drought and food insecurity that has hit 11 million people in the region.