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Strategies Sought to Reduce African Food Insecurity

Malawians queue for food aid distributed by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Mzumazi village near the capital Lilongwe, Feb. 3, 2016.

United Nations agencies and African governments are meeting to develop strategies to reduce food losses among smallholder farmers.

Africa is grappling with higher than normal rates of food insecurity due to drought and flooding caused by El Nino.

The United Nations is helping governments from across Africa to find ways to reduce food losses on the continent. A weeklong meeting in Harare is being attended by U.N. agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The FAO’s Stephanie Gallatova says a third of the food produced on the continent is lost before it is consumed due to poor storage facilities, resulting in it rotting or pests feeding on it. She says meeting participants are prioritizing steps to reduce the waste.

"We are not targeting all commodities. We are targeting those which have been prioritized by the governments," Gallatova said.

'Priority is maize'

"In many southern African countries, the priority is maize. We are also conducting studies on horticultural products, both fruits and vegetables, a few studies on milk. In West Africa, there is particular interest in reducing fish losses," she said. "The El Nino is more about affecting food production and productivity; but, of course, El Nino plays a big role in this. If you do not produce food in the first place, there is nothing to protect."

El Nino-induced drought has hit most parts of the Horn of Africa and southern Africa. This week, Zimbabwe announced that about 4 million people need food handouts because of drought, while UNICEF said it was looking for at least $21 million to avert malnutrition in the southern African nation.

At Mbare Musika market in Harare, almost all agricultural commodities, such as maize, bananas, tomatoes and nuts, are found; but, farmers say they lose most of their produce before they get buyers. Tomato farmer Grace Chikwanha says besides pests, her crop perishes because she fails to secure timely transport.

"When I come here and the tomatoes have high [good] price], for sure I make money; but, the market has no fixed price with tomatoes," said Chikwanha.

Adding value

Robert Delve is a technical adviser with the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

He said rural farmers in Africa should be taught about adding value to their produce by processing or by learning methods to reduce loss; but, he says IFAD funding for low-interest loans and direct assistance has fallen.

"Unfortunately, if you look at who funds IFAD, it is donor countries, member countries of IFAD of the United Nations. They are faced with many challenges - either in the government’s perceptions to offer overseas development or as you have been seeing the in press, the requirement to fund the migration challenge in Europe," said Delve.

That means other programs must increase their assistance in rural agriculture in Africa or food losses will continue.