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  • South Africans Stand Up to End Poverty

    From 16-18 October, South Africans will join millions of people across the globe in the “Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now!” Campaign as they call on world leaders to eradicate extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

    Last year almost 117 million people participated in this annual campaign, the majority from poor countries, breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest mobilisation of human beings in recorded history.

    On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty - 17 October - citizens from all over South Africa will stand together and call for an urgent action and a more just world. “We believe that standing together is the best way of ensuring our leaders hear us. We expect people here to Stand Up for whatever issue is closest to their reality - that could be maternal mortality, climate change, a more prudent global financial system management, additional resources or access to education and social services for all in South Africa. This is the most grassroots mobilisation anyone can be part of so it is vital we show we are serious,” says Rajesh Latchman, Convenor of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty alliance in South Africa and National Welfare Forum.

    Where and How will South Africa Stand Up and Take Action?

    An estimated two million people will get involved in Stand Up through a range of events in school classrooms, at sporting activities, in places of worship and at cultural events. All these actions will go towards a new global Guinness World Record. People can participate by sending an email to standupsa@gmail.com, registering a planned action (such as a prayer against poverty, singing a song, drawing pictures, attending a Stand Up event, or even standing up in at home ) or visiting www.standagainstpoverty.org.

    This year, for the first time, people can participate by sending an SMS to the Stand Up SMS number (TBA) which will be available on the website www.mzansi.org.za or become a fan of Stand Up on Facebook.

    You can join a Stand Up event by checking out the website www.standagainstpoverty.org/map or setting up your event with friends, colleagues, classmates or community members.

    Stand Up Events
    • Housemates in Big Brother Africa will Stand Up on 17 October at 10:00 am.
    • Children from schools across KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape will Stand Up with the support of ChildCare SA, Help2read, the Department of Education and Art of Living.
    • Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church will be hosting a prayer service for Stand Up on Sunday 18 October.
    • The Economic Justice Network (EJN) and partner organizations are marching on parliament for the right to food security on Sunday 18 October.
    • The Currie Cup semi final in Durban is hosting Stand Up.
    • The National Welfare Forum (NWF) will host two Anti Poverty Strategy workshops in Limpopo and Gauteng.
    • During the three days of the campaign, Virgin Active Midrand will invite everyone to Stand Up.
    • On World Food Day,16 October 2009, a campaign to call for an end to hunger and poverty will take place in the Northern Cape.
    • In Durban, churches and NGOs will get together and prepare food and hampers for poor communities.
    • As part of the SANGONet 2009 Social Media for NGOs Conference taking place in Newtown, participants will Stand Up on 16 October.
    For more information on Stand Up 2009:
    Tel: 011 403 1915 Fax: 011 403 1879
    Cell: Karen 083 392 2388 Watson 072 620 0801 Thato 082 776 6064
    Email: standupsa@gmail.com
    URL: www.mzansi.org.za and globally www.standagainstpoverty.org
    YouTube: www.youtube.com/bettermzansi
    Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/42017608@N05/
    Author(s): 
    Watson Hamunakwadi
  • Loan Guarantee For Small Farmers

    The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a green group headed by former United Nations secretary- general, Kofi Annan, plans a loan guarantee facility to leverage a US$1 billion from commercial banks for small African farmers.

    The organisation’s vice president, Akinwumi Adesina, points out that the organisation, with a board chaired by Annan, intends to launch the facility to cover a gap in funding for small-scale food producers in Africa.

    Adesina says African banks are awash with money, but less than one percent of total domestic private capital went to agriculture, a significant contributor to Gross Domestic Product and which employs some 70 percent of the labour force.

    To read the article titled, “Farmers get green light,” click here.

    Source: 
    <br /> Sunday Times
    Article link: 
  • On Being Poor and the MDGs

    The severity of poverty worldwide prompted 189 world leaders in 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit to make a promise about the eradication of poverty by the year 2015. These commitments became to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now with six years to go until the MDGs deadline of 2015 and for South Africa five years (as we have identified 2014 – 20 years into our democracy – as our target), we need to assess whether sufficient progress has been made in reaching the goals. This narrative paints a bleak picture. However it is one that has to be told so that we can ensure that the MDGs are realised. We must ask the difficult questions so that they can be answered.

    The reality is that in South Africans, while there has been progress in realising some of the MDGs there have been numerous challenges. News headlines have often highlighted food price hikes and price fixing. With 40% of the population living in poverty the ability to simply afford food is not within their grasp and hunger is becoming a daily problem for many.

    The recent retrenchments - blamed on the world economic crisis - have thrown approximately another million people into crisis this year. This contributes to economic hardship, leaving millions vulnerable. Unemployment increases the challenges of eradicating hunger - without income, there is even less to spend on food. South Africa is a net importer of produce and although food prices are decreasing in developed countries they remain high in developing countries. This manifests itself with the majority of the population unable afford basic food items. This has been the case for many of the residents in Vosloorus on the East Rand of Gauteng, where Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) has been working for the last 18 months.

    For many  in Vosloorus the MDGs do not have any meaning. What matters is their lived reality of a daily struggle to have their basic needs met while they try to survive with limited resources. The increase in the numbers of orphans and children who are vulnerable compounds the communities’ challenges. Orphanhood in Vosloorus is not a new AIDS–related issue. There have been several generations of orphans in Vosloorus which, I argue is a reflection of the intergenerational aspect of poverty and vulnerability.

    However, the role of the HIV and AIDS pandemic has to be considered in relation to how it changes the structure of households. The death of a bread winner and ill health is sufficient to push vulnerable households into poverty, keep them in poverty traps or push them in to destitution. This has been the case for some of the households in Vosloorus. Within the sample of 40 households, 20% of the respondents have turned to destructive coping strategies such as having multiple sexual partners in order to be able to sustain the household. During our field work in the community one participant stated that in order to have her basic needs met, she had multiple partners, each of whom would fulfil a particular need eg, household or personal needs like the provision for mealie meal, meat, clothing or cellular phone airtime. It was also found that in some cases people were forced to compromise safe sexual practices by giving in to pressure to engage in unprotected sex under the coercive pull of promises of money. This illustrates the sometimes precarious coping strategies that are being adopted to meet basis needs.

    Education has been highlighted as a way to equip individuals with the necessary skills to enter the job market. Findings from the survey we conducted indicate that while school attendance was fairly high, there is a persistent drop out rate of 15%. This is generally caused by a lack of funds (not just for fees, but transport, uniform, books and food), or teenage pregnancy. Although the education system appears to be in crisis, pupils have a great desire to attain education. However, the sad reality is that even with education large portions of school leavers will struggle to find work given the pre-existing high unemployment in the country.

    The findings from our work in Vosloorus have demonstrated that poor and marginalised people are not always passive participants or mere victims of circumstantial poverty. Rather they are engaged in an ongoing struggle to use available resources to break the cycle of poverty. The principal elements of their daily struggles include taking part in small informal trading initiatives, albeit peripheral.

    In the absence of paid work many household rely on social security grants which are used for various micro-enterprises and also to provide basic needs. The funds received from the grants are however eroded exponentially by food inflation. Within a household of five in which no member of the household has formal employment and the sole regular income is a child grant of R240 it is unlikely that basic needs will be met, let alone the costs of transportation to school, groceries and municipal services.

    The MDGS have been criticised as being set too low and it has been argued that they have reduced the sense of urgency amongst states needed to address people’s needs. MDGS also are silent about the issue of wealth and the unsustainability of high inequalities in societies. If the scenario evident in Vosloorus is anything to go by, there remain serious obstacles towards South Africa’s ability to meeting the MDGs. What is necessary I believe, is that we need to work together as a society to challenge poverty and inequality if we are to make any tangible and long-lasting difference in the lives of the poor and marginalised.

    Let us start doing this now and Stand Up and Take Action.

    Idah Makukule a researcher at the Studies in Inequality and Poverty Institute (SPII). She can be contacted at idah@spii.org.za. Find out more about SPII’s work at www.spii.org.za
    Author(s): 
    Idah Makukule
  • Africa Urged to Change Policy on Food

    The United Nations (UN) food agency says that a recent boost in sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural production indicates a break with the past, but concerted and purposeful policy action is required to maintain the momentum.

    The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) notes that after decades of decline, sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural sector – 80 percent of which consists of smallholder farmers -- grew more than 3.5 percent in 2008, well above the two percent rate of population growth.

    FAO further says The gains were driven by a more favourable policy environment for agriculture in many countries and higher world prices for food commodities such as wheat and rice.

    To read the article titled, “Africa needs policy changes on food,” click here.
    Source: 
    <br /> Mail and Guardian
    Article link: 
  • Are the MDGs relevant to South Africa?

    For a long time, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not mean much to me. In my mind, they seemed like quasi-development goals that were a compromise after years of fighting for a development agenda at a global level. The MDGs did not go far enough in terms of making substantive inroads on poverty and inequality, and the South African context seemed to make them irrelevant. After all, we had our Constitution which committed our citizens and leaders to a far better standard of life than the MDGs could offer. I felt the MDGs were somewhat of a ‘tick-box’ or rubber stamping exercise, because South Africa would go so much further than what the MDGs set out to achieve.

    Now, with six years to go until D-Day , it seems that I was missing the point. It is significant that, in 2000, 189 countries were able to act in unison after the United Nations (UN) Millennium Summit and agree on definitive goals to address poverty. Not only that, but the Millennium Summit, and the subsequent declaration, made development goals part of a global agenda with timelines (read deadlines) and committed resources by developed countries.

    Given the various challenges in the face of true dignity of life in South Africa (including service delivery), the MDGs remain an important political reminder to our leaders of their development commitments. We have not gone nearly far enough to achieve the socio-economic rights defined by our Constitution. It is in this context that the MDGs are absolutely relevant.

    The reach of the MDGs goes beyond the goals alone. They provide legitimacy to the development agenda in the countries that have adopted them. They are both time-bound and quantifiable, so countries will be measured on their performance using clear indicators and, theoretically, transparently. The MDGs are also a minimum development programme that it has been argued, can be achieved with the requisite amount of political will.

    In line with a minimum development programme, the official UN monitoring site for the MDGs states that South Africa is well on its way to achieving the goals. The MDGs that are “very likely to be achieved and on track” include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development. The MDGs that South Africa is not doing so well on, but are “possible to achieve if some changes are made” include reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

    However, despite our seemingly successful efforts towards achieving the goals, that the MDGs are meant to act as guideline and to be adapted to local contexts is often missed. Countries are free to contextualise the goals within their own development needs, and engagement with citizens in this process is recommended. Take Goal One - to halve the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day -for example. Indications are that half of our population continues to live in poverty, despite our high calibre policy. South Africa appears to be lagging behind, as the MDGs have not yet been made context specific and continue to be engaged with only at a national level, mainly in government departments, and in rhetoric.

    Critics of South Africa’s achievement of the MDGs point out that the process has been top down and has failed to take poor people into account. Ironically, although the MDGs concern those members of our society that are most affected by poverty, there has been very little real engagement with those experiencing poverty. An important question to ask is whether those living in poverty in South Africa feel that the MDGs are relevant to the daily challenges they experience and their needs. The global Stand Up and Take Action campaign has gone some way to address this top down approach to the MDGs by encouraging citizen’s voices and participation in the MDG process. In South Africa, questions that need to be asked, for instance, include whether individuals and communities would ask for the prioritisation of some goals over others? Or, would they include new goals that are not contained in the eight MDGs, as other countries such as Vietnam has done? Vietnam has included pro-poor infrastructure development, pro-poor governance and reducing vulnerability as additional goals. In fact, in 2005, the People’s Budget Campaign argued that a ninth goal to “ensure equitability and inclusion of people with disabilities within the mainstream society of South Africa” should be added to the MDGs in South Africa. This proposed goal has not been adopted by government.

    Civil society engagement with the MDGs has also been limited to the periphery by the MDG process. The South Africa country report on the MDGs has not included civil society concerns about the achievement, or lack thereof, of the MDGs. In 2005, the People’s Budget Campaign argued that “... as civil society we have not been included in the preparation of our government’s country report...” despite the constitutional framework that promotes a participatory and consultative democracy. Such limitations have hindered the possibility of monitoring the progress of the goals by sectors of society that are closely connected to development issues on the ground.

    The MDGs continue to be a reminder of deliverables and the development agenda. This is why they are important. Given the kinds of issues that South Africa continues to grapple with, the MDG process retains its relevance, if only for affected people to determine where the goals aren’t relevant and what would be more appropriate for development in their areas. One-hundred-and-sixteen- million people worldwide continue to see the relevance of the MDGs and, for this reason, they Stand Up and Take Action every year from 16 to 18 October.

    The question from now on is how do we harness the chance to make the MDGs more meaningful for us in South Africa?

    Karen Peters is the programmes team leader at the National Welfare Forum, that is leading the Stand Up Campaign in South Africa.
    Author(s): 
    Karen Peters
  • Child Hunger to Increase Due to Climate Change

    Up to 25 million more children will be malnourished in the next 40 years due to climate change, with sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia the worst affected, according to a new report issued on Wednesday.

    The report, released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and detailing the impact of climate change on agriculture, says without climate change about 113 million children under five years of age will be malnourished by 2050.

    But that number is expected to rise dramatically due to the ravaging effects of global warming on food production around the world, IFPRI said.

    To read the full article titled, "Climate change to cause more child hunger: report", click here.

    Source: 
    <br /> Reuters
    Article link: 
  • Why Should You Support Stand Up 09?

    Stand Up & Take Action is the largest global initiative for action by people to take action for a better world. It speaks directly to ending poverty, ensuring every child gets an education, it promotes fair and just treatment of women, a HIV free world, sustainable climate positive actions and a global collective for development.

    Stand Up & Take Action is not just about taking a stand on 17 October, but is about working together for a period of time to ensure we reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. So it is about making at least a 6-year commitment!

    Through the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), Stand Up is part of a movement to bring about positive social change and GCAP acts to remind leaders at G8 & G20 Summits to stay the course to build a fair and just world. The involvement of the United Nations Millennium Campaign acts to ensure that the MDGs stay on the international development agenda.

    So, being a supporter of Stand Up & Take Action is not just about the 17th October, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It is about working everyday to make a difference and in South Africa; Stand Up & Take Action will work as a rolling campaign of mass action for the realisation of human dignity for all who live here.

    We will do this by:
    • Working to highlight the nature & extent of poverty and how this limits people ability to access and enjoy their Constitutional Rights
    • Working with supporters from government, civil society and business to highlight and celebrate important local and international event days such as:
    o World Aids Day, World Day for Decent Work, National Children’s Day, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Youth Day, Heritage Day, Freedom Day and various other initiatives that supporters of and partners in Stand Up feel will enable ongoing action for building a great country.
    • Each of these highlight activities will ensure we never lose sight of the many challenges we face and the great initiatives and people working to make South Africa a great place to live.
    • Working with other partners to highlight development challenges and the MDGs during the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa.
    • Building towards mobilising 20 million people in SA to Stand Up & Take Action on 17 October 2010.
    So, there are many reasons to join Stand Up & Take Action as a supporter but none more compelling than the idea that we can work together to build a great country, for all.

    Join the largest global campaign for a better world, now !

    Stand Up 09 Team
  • Exclusive Breastfeeding Within a Social Context - Reflecting on Africa

    The importance of breastfeeding is easily overlooked or argued away by non-scientific arguments. The fact is, however, that breastfeeding is intimately related to our present and future, through its vital connection to the state of the continent’s health. The breastfeeding of infants not only holds several health benefits to the infants themselves, but is also an important variable to consider from a long-term perspective. The practice is vital to the future of the continent, notably because it has been shown that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life can protect the baby from contracting HIV.

    Most health centres and clinics recommend to new mothers that they practice exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of infants’ lives in order to maximise the infants’ immune systems. This instruction seems easy enough to follow, but the social context in which these mothers live often deviates significantly from the clinical setting. The general upbringing of infants, including breastfeeding and other health concerns, are not issues simply and single-handedly determined by mothers. This month’s newsletter argues that against the background of Augusts World Breastfeeding Week, breastfeeding is not only a health and HIV and AIDS related issue, but also a gender issue insofar as it concerns mothers, the role played by families and surrounding environments and circumstances in mother’s decision making.

    World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from 1 - 7 August and serves as a period during which organisations and Governments work to create awareness about the importance of breastfeeding. The celebration commemorates the Innocenti Declaration made by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) policy makers in August 1990 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Yet, despite almost 20 years of promotion and awareness, less than 50 percent of African mothers practice potentially lifesaving exclusive breastfeeding. In Cameroon, for example, the current breastfeeding rate is a meagre 24 percent (Cameroon Tribune, 18 August 2009).

    The benefits of breastfeeding


    So, why is breastfeeding so important when a variety of formulae exist that can perform a seemingly identical function? According to the WHO, there are several important reasons for a mother to breastfeed for at least the first six months of her infant’s life. First, mother’s milk contains all the nutrients the infant needs. Particularly in resource-limited settings, powdered formula is often diluted too much in order to ‘stretch’ supplies, a strategy that sadly reduces the nutrients the infant receives. Formula may also contain contaminations present in the water used. Mother’s milk is usually readily available and safe for infants to drink, and obviously far more affordable than formula. “Besides being clean and hygienic, mother's milk is ready for consumption and at the right temperature, the mother does not need to buy it, and the more she breast-feeds the more milk she will produce,” explains Mozambique’s Lidia Chongo, Head of the Women and Child Health Department. She launched a year-long ‘National Campaign to Promote Breast-Feeding’ in August as part of the Government’s efforts to promote exclusive breastfeeding. Against the background of worldwide increasing poverty and famine, breastfeeding is certainly a viable alternative to formula milk.

    Besides these benefits, the fact that breast milk boosts infant immune systems also means that it protects babies from contracting HIV, if practiced exclusively. If mothers breastfeed in addition to feeding their baby’s formula and/or solid foods, the babies are at a far higher risk of contracting HIV. Thus, although many African mothers breastfeed their infants, the fact that so few exclusively practice this feeding method puts thousands of infants at risk of contracting HIV from their mothers. The consequences are not only reduced quality of life for mother and child, but also reduced wellbeing of the African continent as a whole. Why do so few mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding?

    Breastfeeding in the social context
    As noted, clinics and health centres advise mothers to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of their babies’ lives. However, when mothers arrive home, several other factors come into play. First, in the African context, mothers are usually not the sole decision-makers when it comes to their children. Grandmothers play an important role in the mothers’ and infants’ lives and are said to have a strong influence over what mothers feed their babies. In Burkina Faso, for example, grandmothers are reported not to approve of exclusive breastfeeding (‘The path to mother's milk is paved with kola nuts’ Irin News, 4 August 2009).

    According to D. Marc Sawoudogo, a nurse and director of the village clinic in Zincko, Kaya health district, 100 km northeast of the capital, Ouagadougou, grandparents are the “real” decision makers when it comes to child care. “Children do not belong to only their parents in African society,” she told IRIN. “Here, the grandparents take the babies as soon as they get home and dismiss the parents as if to say, 'Who do you think you are?' It is the old ladies who block exclusive breastfeeding from taking root,” she stated. It is not clear why grandparents disapprove of exclusive breastfeeding, and programmes to address this issue have not been as effective as hoped.

    Low levels of involvement by fathers and other community members in infant care is another reason why the advice of health centres is discarded. The absence of men and youth groups from the issue of caring for infants has been identified as a contributing factor to the low numbers of women who breastfeed. In Cameroon, the Minister of Public Health, André Mama Fouda, launched a campaign to promote breastfeeding during last month’s World Breastfeeding Week. Fouda’s campaign urged men and youth groups to become more involved in raising infants in their communities. It is hoped that more involvement of these groups will help to spread the message of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

    Supporting mothers

    Breastfeeding is not a miracle solution to poverty and famine. Hunger and poor nutrition affects mothers and in turn, their milk and their babies. Programmes that empower women financially and generate incomes for communities thus remain absolutely essential, not only for the mothers, but for the children they are raising, too. However, many programmes reportedly ‘dump’ formula on communities in efforts to relieve their poverty and hunger, but experts have warned that formula is a bad substitution for breast milk. Providing famine communities with formula discourages exclusive breastfeeding, and therefore can technically worsen the situation, without the correct information.

    Mothers need healthcare support, too. The WHO describes breastfeeding as something that needs to be learnt. New mothers need proper instruction from healthcare workers as well as family encouragement, as they have to deal with nipple pain, tiredness and fears that they will not produce enough milk for the baby. If mothers do not feel that the way their infant is fed is an important health and community matter, they may see no reason to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months or longer.

    While breastfeeding is vital to the future of Africa, both in terms of coping with food shortages and building healthy, HIV-free generations, the practice should not be conceptualised as existing independently of women’s social contexts. Welfare dumping of formula milk, cultural and communal beliefs and healthcare shortcomings may all contribute to maternal reluctance to practice exclusive breastfeeding. In light of the urgency that underlies the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding, campaigns need to take note of the influence of women’s social contexts so that programme efficiency can be significantly improved.

    - Charlotte Sutherland is Research Manager: Gender Issues in Africa at Consultancy Africa Intelligence (charlotte.sutherland@consultancyafrica.com). The September edition of the Gender Issues in Africa Newsletter is republished here with permission from Consultancy Africa Intelligence (CAI), a South African-based research and strategy firm with a focus on social, health, political, and economic happenings in Africa. For more information see http://www.consultancyafrica.com or http://www.ngopulse.org/press-release/consultancy-africa-intelligence. Alternatively, visit http://www.consultancyafrica.com/promo2 to take advantage of CAI’s free, no obligation, three-month trial to the company’s Standard Report Series.
    Author(s): 
    Charlotte Sutherland
  • SASSA Fails to Distribute Food Parcels

    While the poor are starving, tons of food parcels are gathering dust and going rotten in the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) warehouse in Botlokwa, north of Polokwane.

    The parcels were brought in as part of a poverty alleviation programme aimed at feeding needy families – people on the waiting list for social and dependency grants and for tuberculosis and HIV-Aids outpatients.

    When asked why the food parcels had not been distributed, SASSA officials claimed that Matome Rapola, manager in the HIV directorate, has placed a moratorium on its distribution.

    To read the article titled, “Food parcels rotting away,” click here.
    Source: 
    Sowetan
  • From Basket Case to Food Basket in Africa – Lessons in Making Hunger History

    Without a doubt I vote HE Bingu wa Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi, one of the best performing African Presidents. The reason for this is simple: in 2004 when he came into power he made a pledge - “I will not be a president who goes around begging for food”. Unlike other rhetorical commitments we have often been treated to, he has put his words into action.

    Malawi is an agriculture-based economy where agriculture contributes over 80 percent of export earnings; 38 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and supports 85 percent of the population. Smallholder farming (3.42 million households) contributes 75 percent of agricultural production. Maize is the staple food, grown by 97 percent of farming households and consumed by every Malawian. Prior to 2004, Malawi was forced into massively import maize for a number of consecutive years due to bad weather and low input uptake, among other factors.

    In the 2004/5 season, many parts of the country were hit by prolonged dry spells. Yields in that year dropped to around 0.8 tons/ha, one of the lowest on record. The national production declined to less than 1.2 million metric tons, representing a decline of 24 percent from the previous year, approximately 60 percent of the estimated national maize food requirement. The country and smallholder farmers in particular, were thrown into high risk and vulnerability.

    In a space of three years, between 2005 and 2007, a miracle took place: the country has gone from a food deficit of 43 percent to a food surplus of 57 percent; productivity increased two-fold from one ton per hectare to over two tons. Maize production nearly trebled from 1.23 million metric tons to 3.44 million metric tons. Malawians had enough for themselves and to export. The graph below shows that the miracle continues in 2009.


    How did the miracle happen? The government doubled its expenditure on agriculture from 7.4 percent to 14 percent; scaled up access and affordability of farm inputs through rapid up-scaling of agro-dealers and a smart subsidy programme (through non-transferable coupons) for a whole range of farmers from vulnerable households through hard-working ones and adapters of new technologies. From food exports and sales to the World Food Programme through the Purchase for Progress Programme, the country has been generating in excess of US120 million annually. This is then ploughed back for further scaling-up of the programme. To ensure that smallholder farmers graduate faster from reliance on subsidised input for food security the government has embarked on a manure-making campaign; intensified extension and research in agriculture and the Greenbelt Initiative.

    In 2003, in what is commonly referred to as the Maputo Protocol, African governments were supposed to have worked towards a similar miracle across the continent. They committed to spend 10 percent of their national budgets on agriculture in order to ensure food security for their citizens by 2015. However, so far only six countries are making good on this political commitment - Malawi, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia. Nearly seven years after making the political commitment, 17 countries still spend less than five percent of their national budgets on agriculture.

    Malawi has restored faith in Africa by demonstrating that the continent need not become the world’s basket case. Effective ways to improve agriculture and combat food insecurity are no longer a secret. In fact they are quite simple: scale up access and affordability of high yielding farm inputs through scaling up agro-dealers; put in place a smart subsidy programme for farmers; close the resource gap by leveraging commercial banks to lend more to agriculture through risk-sharing arrangements; build Africa’s capacity for evidence-based policies by strengthening policy institutions; and develop operational policies to promote agro-processing and value addition.

    However, the one ingredient that pulls all these solutions together is political will to deliver on commitments that have already been made. As in the case of Malawi, donors may be resistant at the beginning; but if the country perseveres, ultimately, as long as the programme is well run and corruption-free, everyone will want to associate with success - as did the donor community in Malawi which provides budgetary support: DFID, EU, NORAD, Irish Aid, and World Bank among others.

    It is time that Africa took the initiative to make hunger history.

    Archbishop Njongo Ndungane is the Founder and President of African Monitor, www.africanmonitor.org

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