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Pan-African NGO Fights Hunger with Subsidies, Changed Diets

Worsening climatic conditions, rising food prices and increasing population in Africa are leaving more and more hungry…sometimes acutely hungry. A recent report says world leaders have agreed to cut the number of hungry people in half by 2015. The study was issued by the United Nations-backed Millennium Development Goals project .

There are still six years to go, but observers say little has been done to achieve the 2015 goal. Close to 900 million people currently face acute hunger or malnutrition in Africa alone. It's for this reason that the South Africa-based New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, is supporting enhanced food production, the cultivation of nutrient-rich crops and the distribution of seed packs to African communities.

Boitshepo Bibi Giyose is food and nutrition advisor to NEPAD. She believes that with the right support, African farmers can grow enough food to feed the entire continent, and reduce malnutrition and poverty.

"At NEPAD, we have the livestock and fisheries program, and already for fisheries I'm happy to say that countries like Malawi, Zambia and Nigeria have really caught on, and they are promoting aquaculture. And more families have access to such resources to produce for themselves and to sell extra, to be able to diversify their diets," she says.

Giyose explains that apart from livestock and fisheries, NEPAD is also promoting the cultivation of nutritionally valuable crops such as orange-fleshed sweet potatoes--very rich in vitamins.

She says "We have the World Vegetable Center situated in Arusha, Tanzania, and also the Global Horticulture Initiative, which is also housed in Tanzania. And we had a project that was targeting households affected by HIV and AIDS and we distributed what we called nutrition packs, whereby there were about 13 different kinds of crop seeds: tomatoes, onions, traditional and indigenous vegetables, and those worked very well."

While NEPAD is continuing to respond to the challenges of acute hunger and malnutrition in Africa, another group is lobbying governments to subsidize fertilizer, seed and other inputs used by farmers.

Akin Adesina is the vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. He says in Malawi, for example, subsidies have helped farmers increase food production. Adesina says, "Farmers in Africa are no different from farmers in Europe or the United States. All they need is actually access to seed and fertilizers. If they do have access to those farm inputs they can double, they can triple, or in some cases quadruple yields. And now other countries are looking at that program, including Tanzania and Rwanda."

He says greater political commitment is needed if Africa and indeed the rest of the world are to meet the Millennium Development Goals of cutting hunger in half over the next six years.