Thursday, July 21, 2011

Food aid is needed desperately - but ultimately it is not the answer

Helen de Jode in the Guardian: The images of Africans affected by the drought in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya paint a grim picture – thousands of people are again in desperate need and are being provided with food aid to allow them to survive. But what the photographs fail to show is the reason why so many people have reached this state of destitution.

Underneath the high visibility famine lies an age-old and sustainable way of living that has been disrupted by a modern world system, and whose ability to adapt to the cycle of drought has been severely undermined.

An estimated 20 million people live in the dryland areas of the Horn of Africa; nomads, or pastoralists, who own livestock and feed themselves, their communities and the regional economy with milk, meat and other livestock products. Pastoralists have lived in the harsh and erratic dryland environments of the Horn for centuries, surviving its regular and repeated cycle of droughts through their unique production strategy that depends on mobility.

While a farmer waits for the rain to arrive, a pastoralist moves to where the rain has already been – feeding their camels, cows, sheep or goats on the new grazing opportunities and accessing the water sources. Complex social systems that cross national borders, and the reserving of key areas of land for drought periods, have traditionally ensured that pastoralists have adapted to the extreme climatic variability they face.

But in recent decades vast areas of the pastoralist land in the Horn of Africa have been taken over by agriculture and large-scale commercial farms – often in the key strategic riverine areas previously reserved for times of drought. This has undermined the whole system and reduced yields of milk and meat….

Maasai cattle in Kenya, shot by imaginextra, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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