The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has announced a new plan to improve food security programs in 15 African countries. The agency is appealing for $43.5 million to finance the five-year plan. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

Food shortages are an unfortunate, regular part of life in many parts of Africa. Whenever a food crisis occurs, the International Red Cross Federation and other humanitarian organizations rush to provide emergency food aid.

The Red Cross says the aim of its new plan is to limit food crises from occurring by investing in long-term food security programs. Federation spokesman, Jean-Luc Martinage, tells VOA the Red Cross will help some two-and-one-quarter million people in 15 countries across Africa become self-sufficient in food by improving their farming technologies.

"For instance, the development of seed banks, also promoting micro-finance projects, small scale irrigation projects in villages. So, we need practical steps at the community level. This will be done also, of course, by scaling up the capacities of national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to make them better prepared to support food security activities. Also, to set up community-based security monitoring systems," said Martinage.

These monitoring systems, says Martinage, will provide early warnings and allow volunteers to raise the alarm when food stocks run low.

He says it is important to act now to find long-lasting solutions to fight hunger. He says food shortages and problems related to hunger are growing alarmingly in Africa.

"Instead of reducing malnutrition, it is actually on the rise with the combined effects of increasing poverty, HIV, climate change, also a growing number of conflicts. A series of reasons that have made things worse instead of better," explained Martinage.

Red Cross spokesman Martinage says long-term food security programs will be integrated with existing community-based healthcare projects, especially HIV, and water and sanitation programs. He says this will increase their efficiency.

He says he believes the strategy will work because the Red Cross has a large network of volunteers in the villages. He says they are being trained in ways to improve farming. He says each community will develop its own strategy and practical ways of increasing their food yields.