Food security and the EAC

I share the frustrations of Rwandans and Africans in general who have seen food prices rise continually for a decade. Every time I send someone to the market, they come back with less and less.

I share the frustrations of Rwandans and Africans in general who have seen food prices rise continually for a decade. Every time I send someone to the market, they come back with less and less.

Food security is defined as having a situation where all people have physical and economic access to enough food to meet their dietary needs.

In this regard we are mostly secure but hunger still plagues some poor in our societies.

In our East African region we have some areas which suffer from famine, while in urban areas prices are sky-rocketing.

All our future economic policies will have to be discussed as a region and food security is the top issue; what is more important than our daily bread? When the EU was formed in its earlier guise as the EEC, food security was the first topic they discussed.

In order to stabilise the economy from exogenous shocks in the food market, they decided to stabilise food prices long term, simply to control inflation.

In Africa, our tremendous growth is often swallowed up by food inflation; no matter what measures we take such as modernisation and liberalisation, we can never seem to stop the rise of food prices.

East Africa needs a joint policy on agriculture because it is our main means of production; moving our population away from subsistence farming is going to take a regional effort.

The sudden rises in food prices stem from an issue of supply; the demand is there but seasonality and logistics restrict supply.

Add to this the increased energy costs for transportation and you have an upward curve.

The short term focus of the market leaves it open for middlemen to exploit; it is a seemingly pointless task to farm when you can just hire a lorry and drive around the villages buying cheap produce to sell at a high price to city folk.

It will require us to change our diet away from roots and tubers to cereal that can be stored for longer; we will need to store several years harvest in order to have the land and leeway required for a transition to mechanised farming.

Hoarding food is the best way to promote food security but it has its negative effects. In Africa when nations have stored large amounts of food it has had a detrimental effect. 

If food could be stored securely without infiltrating the market, then we would have enough supply.

However, this might depress prices as we would be over-supplied, so then the governments would have to step in and create an agreed price, this would further distort the markets.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been the biggest drain on the EU taking some $80 billion of government spending a year. It has since outlived its purpose but none of the EU governments have found a way to end it without causing social chaos.

The government of Europe decided to hoard mountains of wheat, lakes of wine, cheese, and indeed everything they eat; after they had stored enough food for 10 years, they started to pay farmers not to farm.

East Africa is not wealthy enough to subsidise farmers to any reasonable level, nor do we want that; but what we can do is set aside a portion of our budget to store food long-term.

Logistics is another issue; there can be drought in Bugesera and bountiful harvest in Cyangugu but the two areas are logistically disconnected. A lot of our food is wasted simply because it fails to connect with the market and it rots in the field.

In order to secure our economic stability we need a concerted push towards scientific methods in farming and this will help move people off the land into cities.

Apart from supply issues, we also have other measures that could help; land reform to help farmers use their land and produce as collateral to gain credit. Educating people in dietary health; one can have urban obesity and rural malnutrition because urbanites are eating too much.

Conflict resolution is also important; disputed land is often left fallow, people battle for resources that are getting scarcer such as land, water, wood, and food. Food security is national security; famine breeds war, war breeds famine and so on. Since negotiations with our EAC partners began we have generally shied away from the topic of agricultural reform; it is seen as stirring a beehive but it is the biggest policy decision facing East Africans.

How we move our populations from the villages to modern urban means of production is our biggest challenge. In order to end subsistence farming we will have to remove the need for subsistence; it will be some short term pain but long term gain.

Food security used to be measured in seasons but now we must think in terms of decades; we take for granted this fertile paradise but global warming could change all that. So when you come back from the market with fewer goods, know that there are solutions to this.     



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