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Rome Food Summit Highlights East Africa Food Crisis

Rome Food Summit Highlights East Africa Food Crisis

On the final day of the World Summit on Food Security in Rome, UN humanitarian aid agencies addressed the food crisis in East Africa and the Horn. Millions of people there are in need of emergency food assistance.

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"East Africa and the Horn are currently are currently the most critical area in the world that we are monitoring and reporting on," says Henry Josserand, chief of the Food and Agriculture Organization's Global Information and Early Warning Service.

The hardest hit countries include Sudan – especially the south – Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania.

"There are over 20 million people in this part of the world, who are currently requiring emergency assistance because of drought...displacement of populations due to insecurity and conflict and because of high food prices," Josserand says.

Production down, food needs up

"This region of the world normally produces about 32 million tons of cereals per year. We expect that this year the region…will produce much less," he says.

Even in the best of times, says Josserand, this region imports between six and seven million tons of cereals per year and receives 1.5 million tons of food aid per year.

Buying food, he says, can be a "big financial drain for countries, which are already poor."

"We estimate that the import bill for Africa, for example, is on the order of $10.5 billion a year. And for East Africa and the Horn this year we are looking at between three and four billion dollars worth of imports because of the drought…crop failure and because of the lack of production because people are displaced," he says.

The high cost of food

In 2007 and 2008, international food prices soared, reaching record highs and sparking riots in many countries. While prices have fallen in many countries around the world, not so in sub-Saharan Africa.

"In fact, it is in Africa and in East Africa that they have remained the highest. Today," he says, "maize prices in East Africa are still twice as high as they were in 2007."

UN agencies also say poverty and the global economic downturn are at the heart of the food crisis, including a sharp drop in remittances.

Some groups are criticizing the summit, saying participants failed to take strong action to reduce hunger around the world. ActionAid, for example, says there were no major breakthroughs in new ideas or funding.

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